Ecological concerns for europe
POTABLE WATER; IRREPLACEABLE RESOURCE
For centuries water resources have been taken for granted in Europe - Ecological concerns for europe introduction. In recent years, hazardous chemicals have been added to sources of water resulting in devastating effects to large number of people. The toxins are now a part of our environment and are found in products of domestic use, electronic gadgets, apparels etc. Chemicals have been found be part of house dust, rain water, food and finally to human tissue. The potential contact with such chemicals has come into existence due to current lax attitude of our society. These chemicals must be prevented from being released into the environment; even their usage in routine industrial processes and in manufacture of consumer products should be curbed.
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SOURCES OF TOXINS
A variety of chemicals from industry such as paints, metals and pharmaceuticals, frequently get released in our environment. Water has acted as a dynamic medium for carrying chemical pollutants. Water pollution can be defined as adverse affect on a body of water due to the presence of materials in it which are harmful to plant and animal life. When it is unsuitable for its intended use or rendered unfit for drinking, water is considered polluted. Chemicals formed from the decomposition of natural wastes are also lethal to life. Agricultural chemicals like pesticides, domestic products like insecticides and herbicides, get washed along with rain or cleaning water and reach our drainage system. Many of these can get accumulated in fish and lead to poison people that eat them. Petrochemical based products like oils and detergents can form a thin layer on the surface of water bodies. This layer prevents absorption of Oxygen that is highly essential for sustaining life in water bodies. Quite a few effluents have unpleasant odor that is dangerous for the membranes of our lungs.
There are two kinds of sources that pollute water; point sources and non-point sources. Pollution caused by point sources is highlighted by addition of substances directly into a body of water. An oil spill is the best example of point source water pollution. On the other hand, a non-point source delivers pollutants indirectly through various environmental agents. An example of this type of water pollution is when insecticides from a field are washed into a stream by rain. These streams, devoid of life, can destroy aquatic life in the larger water bodies. There is efficient technology for monitoring point sources of pollution. So applying regulatory laws, by appeasing political player, we can make a difference. Pollution caused by non-point sources is quite difficult to control, as it requires in depth research methods. Pollution arising from non-point sources mainly accounts for the contamination in the rivers.
Most Europeans did not realize that many industrial processes put both qualitative and quantitative strain on availability of water. Water is also recycled by a naturally existing Water-Cycle, thus no source is completely isolated from the other. Polluted water released by the industry or households or agriculture returns to the environment and can damage human health or our environment. The toxicity of water acts as a silent killer and the accumulation of toxins over a large period of time can eventually cause the dangerous effects of chemicals in water to show up. According to estimates around 100,000 different types of toxic chemicals are produced annually. They used for a variety of purposes around the world. The range for European Union is between 30,000 to 70,000.
EFFECTS ON HUMAN LIFE
The most perilous outcome of having toxins in our bodies has been the damage to the reproductive system. In some cases exposure can even occur during the most sensitive life stage; the developing fetus in the womb. A number of latest studies, including that conducted by the EWG (Environmental Working Group) USA and by WWF and Greenpeace in Europe, have reported the presence of a wide range of artificial chemicals in the blood of children and adults. Though the placenta blocks the pathogens, it generally does not block other chemicals present in the mother’s body. So the fetus is susceptible to harm by these chemicals through the blood. The fluid that surrounds the developing baby has also tested positive for the presence of hazardous chemicals. Even the blood supply in the umbilical cord has been found to contain toxins. The EU has classified more than 50 chemicals as toxic to human reproductive organs. Scores of others are recognized as likely to be toxic for the reproductive system. We are aware of only few chemicals so far that have the ability to impair the reproductive system in animals and human beings.
Many toxic chemicals have been previously identified for being able to impeding hormonal system. The hormone system acts system to control growth and overall development of human body. Many chemicals still have not been tested ever for any ill effects they may cause. Until recently, concerns focused on a small number of popular man-made environmental pollutants. Dieldrin, DDT and Hexachlorobenzene were used extensively in the past. Their damaging effects still continue to appear in nature. Not only are these chemicals spread throughout the environment, they have also engulfed ecosystems. To make their removal all the more challenging, these chemicals have traveled far from their source of origin and also through various food chains. These dangerous chemicals have been known for decades to exhibit a wide range of toxic effects on wildlife and, in some cases, humans, including impairment of sensitive organs. (Allsopp et al. 1999).
Some diseases and adverse health conditions can show up many years or even surface after decades of chemical intake. Sometimes, innate harm might have occurred at an early age but it becomes conspicuous in adolescence or adult life. Laboratory studies are used to determine whether chemicals can modify the secretion of hormones. Our bodies indicate endocrine disruption and even reproductive impairment. Human studies are uncommon and it definitely defies conventional wisdom to try and inject such toxic chemicals for measuring their damaging effects.
Studies of impact on humans have therefore invariably focused on identifying relation between concentrations of different chemicals in the body and incidence of reproductive diseases. In a World Health Organization research, the realization that natural hormones play a role in breast cancer has led to new concerns about chemicals that modify hormonal activities and are widely found in food and personal care products. It is still not possible to be certain that hormone disrupting chemicals also play a role in breast cancer. However, the magnitude of the combined action of several chemicals; the “cocktail effect” may result in breast cancer. In the light of this new proof, the role of chemicals in breast cancer requires urgent attention. Since cosmetic industry and personal care products have outgrown expectations, the need for precautionary action is urgent to prevent a large scale issue. There is conclusive evidence for suggesting that man-made chemicals used in manufacture of certain perfumes may be implicated in the increased incidence of breast cancer.
BANE FOR MARINE LIFE AND ECOSYSTEMS
A recent study shows the presence of hazardous chemicals in eels trapped from different locations spread over many countries in Europe. Sources of water were urban, rural, fresh and brackish ecosystems. This indicates the degree to which their habitat has been contaminated. The study was conducted on eels from twenty locations spread over ten countries across Europe. The fish were donated by members of the fishing and science community or purchased in local markets. Eels were found to contain varying levels of Brominated Flame Retardants (BFR), Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB). Some of the chemicals analyzed are in current use while others have been prohibited either in recent years or, as in the case of PCBs, more than 20 years ago. This study clearly demonstrates that the contamination of freshwater habitats with persistent and bio accumulative artificial chemicals remains a problem in Europe. (Santillo D et al 2005)
The results further point that the contamination of water has caused a rapid decline in the population of European aquatic species. Such results highlight the need for sustainable precautionary measures. The early identification of chemical contaminants can help us to devise better pollution control plans. Eventually the substitution of the most hazardous substances with safer alternatives will ensure better prospects.
INITIATIVES BY EUROPEAN UNION
The European Union leaders and EU governments have recently struck a deal on wide-ranging legislation to control the use of toxic chemicals in industry. The draft of the law, due to come into force next year, is designed to make the companies prove the chemicals that they use are safe. The environmentalists want tough action and industry groups are seeking to avoid time-consuming rules. The proposed chemicals legislation is called REACH – Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals. The main function of REACH would be to protect the public from some of the most commonly produced toxic chemicals. It will help to inform the population about the details of the various chemicals and basic information about their control and regulation. Having a well informed society will help to minimize the costs of providing this data and ease the method to take precautionary action on the most dangerous substances. The Environment Committee also sets out agenda to identify extremely toxic chemicals. A special classification called “substances of very high concern” has been reserved for these compounds. These chemicals, which will be few in number, will require a special license for continued use.
REACH will decrease the distinction between old and new chemicals. This will help in creating a level playing-field for producers by removing barriers to innovation that exist under current laws. The recent chemicals require producers to provide information on threats to human health, including cancer-causing effects, harmful effects on the reproductive system and gene damage, as well as data on a substance’s degradability and the risk to aquatic organisms. REACH, in contrast, will only apply to substances produced or imported in quantities of one ton or more per year, thus making it cheaper and easier for industry to market new low-volume substances.
CALIFORNIA ACTION PLAN
A study on phthalates and bisphenol was undertaken in California (USA) in 1998 that led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce stringent rules to safeguard human life. The research by scientists, scholars and statisticians collected data over the period of 50 years and compared it with the existing instances of child birth defects, abnormal growth and the concentration of toxic chemicals found in the tissues. In the last 50 years, rapid industrialization has resulted in massive amounts of artificial chemicals being manufactured. After the Second World War, annual chemical production in the United States had grown more than 15 times. At present, US companies are the world’s largest chemical producers, generating 1.2 billion tons of chemicals each year and earning after-tax profits of 44.6 billion USD on 439 billion USD worth of sales. (Elizabeth Becker, 2004)
Seepage of these chemicals was silently mutating human life. The 1998 EPA monitored research utilized advanced data collection techniques for better analyses. The results were shocking as the data conclusively bracketed the phthalate concentration with rising cases of miscarriages. The mental growth of children was seriously impeded and the instances of autism were increasing rapidly.
In2001, as a control measure the EPA imposed a ban on household uses of the pesticides chlorpyrifos and diazinon. Fortunately, this health-protective action had almost an immediate effect. In the same year mothers in New York City reported lower instances of these compounds in their bodies. Mothers, remarkably, gave birth to healthier and taller babies than those born before the pesticide ban. It vindicated the stand of EPA and other researchers on the project. The EPA banned chlorpyrifos at the end of 2001 and diazinon at the end of 2002, due to the significant evidence of harm to children. Even the products containing these ingredients have begun to disappear on market shelves. As a ripple effect, the commercial applicators have switched to newer and safer pesticides.
The present chemical industry requires more stringent rules for chemical manufacturers. Chemical industry can handle toxic substances as their raw material, finished product and also as disposable waste. Industries should develop diagnostic techniques to detect the chemicals they produce. Manufacturers should be responsible for checking the effects of the substances that they are working with. They should also release reports on ingredients of their products. The reports should also include the substances into which their industrial waste would eventually decompose into. Industrial houses should become more considerate towards environmental issues surrounding their areas. Currently, the taxpayers pay for scientists to find what emerging chemical threats may be present in our environment and bodies. The research should also focus on developing the testing methods to detect them. Otherwise, the toxins end up causing significant damage due to the delay in determining which chemicals pose the greatest threat to life.
Those industries which produce non-biodegradable and toxic wastes should either find alternatives or pay larger tax to enable the government to treat the wastes. We cannot assume that all industries will be responsible and pay the costs when their products are discarded or treated. Some might close down while their harmful products still linger on in the environment. So the industry should be made responsible till the product stays in the environment. Governments should increase the spending on Research and Development to find alternatives to dangerous chemicals. The money spent on innovation would prove far more useful than the money spent on control of health issues arising from toxins.
CHALLENGES FOR EUROPE
The REACH proposal comes with huge costs involved in it. The European Commission’s original proposal estimates registration costs for the chemical industry to be 2.3 billion Euros over 11 years (Cefic 2006). The total cost of the REACH proposal, including costs to downstream users, is somewhere between 2.8 billion and 5.2 billion Euros. There are also apprehensions about the effectiveness of REACH. The environment policy proposal presently contains a major drawback. It will permit the uninterrupted use of hazardous chemicals even if a safer alternative gets developed. A manufacturer will simply have to demonstrate that it is exercising proper precautions to continue the usage of the chemical. The term, adequate control, is yet to be properly defined. Recent EU policies on environment have also resulted in strong resistance by the powerful chemicals industry. The chemicals industry had to cease its efforts to hogwash the feasibility of REACH. The scientific evidence and research by both government and non-government organizations had linked industrial chemicals with disease and environmental damage.
The studies funded by Industries to check the efficacy of REACH, tried to portray huge losses. However, such studies were found to be marred by poor research methods and poorer conclusions. But such reports scared the compilers of EU environment regulations. German chemical manufacturing giant BASF played a pivotal role in influencing the politicians that represented their interests in the EU parliament. Hardliners postponed the session on REACH within the EU members for almost a year. They also vied to make the EU Environment Committee powerless. Few leaders successfully transferred the responsibility of analyzing REACH onto economy and industry ministers. Bigger industry players used their clout to bully SMEs or Small & Medium size Enterprises. The governing members of many high powered industry committees sent out stern messages to smaller firms that their product might not be purchased if they did not lobby against REACH. The chemicals industry has found International support from other continents. US government has also intervened assertively to shake the foundations of this EU environment legislation.
1. Allsopp M., Erry B., Stringer R., Johnston P. and Santillo D. (1999). Recipe for disaster:
a review of persistent organic pollutants in food. Greenpeace Research Laboratories.
2. Santillo, D., Johnston, P., Labunska, I. & Brigden, K. Greenpeace Research Laboratories,
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4PS Technical
Note 12/2005/ October 2005
3. Elizabeth Becker, “White House Undermined Chemical Tests, Report Says,” New York
Times, 2 April 2004.
4. Cefic 2006. Facts and Figures 2006,
Available on http://www. cefic.org/factsandfigures/