- Manufactured chemicals are widespread
in the air, soil, water, sediments and biota of Europes environment, following the
marketing of up to 100,000 chemicals in the EU, their use and disposal, and degradation.
- There is a serious lack of monitoring and
information on these chemicals; their concentration and dispersion in air, water,
sediments, soils, species and food; and related exposures and effects on people and
- Various control measures have reduced risks, and some
emissions and concentrations are declining in Europe, particularly of a few
persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals, but some of these concentrations
remain at levels that may be hazardous.
- Current toxicity risk assessments are based mainly on single
substances, but people and ecosystems are generally exposed to very complex mixtures.
- For 75% of the 2,000 - 3,000 large volume
chemicals on the market there is insufficient toxicity and eco-toxicity
data publicly available for "minimal" risk assessment under OECD
- The costs in time and resources of filling the
toxicity and exposure data gaps for the thousands of chemicals in use, their breakdown
products and relevant mixtures, will be large, as the comprehensive toxicity testing of
one substance costs an estimated ECU 5 M.
- While there is little direct scientific
evidence of widespread ill health or ecosystem damage being caused by most
manufactured chemicals, apart from ozone layer depletion, impacts from fossil fuel
combustion emissions, and acute impacts, such as from accidents or local spillages, "no
evidence" does not necessarily mean "no effects". The difficulties
and costs of detecting effects, the long time lags between exposure and some effects, and
the absence of relevant studies and data mean that the widespread exposures to low doses
of chemicals may be causing harm, possibly irreversibly, particularly to sensitive groups
such as children and pregnant women, and to parts of the environment.
- The evidence for some chemical hazards in some people
is increasing, particularly for neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors that may damage
developmental and reproductive health, cancers and allergies. The evidence on disturbances
to wildlife and ecosystems from low level chemical exposures is also increasing.
- Because some of these hazards are serious,
irreversible and take a long time to appear, action to reduce exposure without
waiting for certain proof of harm is now included in many international agreements (the
- This encourages (as a supplement to toxicity testing)
the reduction and prevention of exposure through reducing chemical
"loads" in the environment, particularly of substances that persist
and bio-accumulate and which therefore are a potential threat to people and the
- Many laws exist to protect workers,
consumers and the environment, but their implementation and effectiveness can be
- Awareness of the environmental and social costs
("externalities") of chemicals is increasing, along with the
associated use of taxes on chemicals to bring these costs into market
prices, thereby encouraging greater eco-efficiency in their production and use.
- There is increasing use of public information,
both about chemicals in consumer products and about emissions of chemicals to the
environment, and they appear to be effective in encouraging less hazardous production and
use of chemicals.
- Chemical feedstocks from "softer" chemicals than fossil fuels, such as plants, are being developed.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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