CHEM Trust began in 2007 and we have gone from strength to strength. It was WWF-UK’s idea to set up a new, highly specialised and technical NGO dedicated to chemicals policy, particularly concerning hormone disrupting chemicals. Thanks to their foresight, that is exactly what we have become.
As a technical NGO, we highlight and communicate the known and potential role chemicals play in adverse effects on wildlife and human health based on the most accurate and up to date scientific evidence. We work to ensure EU chemicals policy is sufficiently robust to reflect these concerns.
CHEM Trust started small with just two co-founding Directors: Elizabeth Salter Green and Gwynne Lyons, formerly the power behind the highly successful WWF-UK Toxics Programme. Now we are a team of six and Elizabeth and Gwynne, though still very much involved, have passed the mantle of leadership onto Dr Michael Warhurst who is the Executive Director. We also have a technical specialist based in Germany, Dr Ninja Reineke who has been a key member of the CHEM Trust team since 2013. We created a 1-year campaign internship, paid on the London living wage, in 2015, and Charlotte Coquard is our third campaign intern. In June 2017 we employed a new campaigner, Andrea Speranza, to work on our Brexit campaign. So things are looking good in the CHEM Trust domain.
Our funding has strengthened over the years but of course, being small, we always live somewhat hand-to-mouth and need more support to ensure our long-term future and development. We are very grateful to our funders, some of whom have supported us since we first began back in 2007. Very few environmental grants are given to toxic chemicals and pollution causes and this seems so wrong to us when they are such an insidious and ubiquitous threat.
Ten years on we are the most influential UK NGO on chemicals and are the go-to organisation for a comment in the media on chemicals policy – be that the technical or general media. Our efforts are focussed at the EU level as the UK does not take unilateral decisions on chemicals. Regardless of how we Brexit, CHEM Trust is working hard to ensure that the UK will remain aligned to the EU chemicals legislation to ensure harmful chemicals are managed well. Otherwise, if the UK leaves the good existing regime in the EU, UK consumers run the risk of ‘inferior’ consumer products containing harmful chemicals being dumped in the UK – products that would not be permitted in the rest of the EU. That is not what UK consumers and families want….
CHEM Trust has worked tirelessly for the last 10 years to ensure that EU chemicals legislation, particularly on hormone disruptors, is as strong as possible to protect humans, wildlife and the wider environment. However, it has not been plain sailing. Some EU Member States and parts of the chemical industry still want these worrying chemicals to be permitted for use in consumer products and food. This is in spite of the most up-to-date research showing many of these chemicals can impact children’s brain development and therefore impact their IQ and lead to behavioural problems such as ADHD – see our latest report No Brainer.
Hormone disruptors not only impact our brain development by disrupting our thyroid hormone system, they also impact our metabolism relating to diabetes and obesity and our reproduction – relating to birth defects of boys’ genitalia, infertility and increased sexually related cancers. The more research that is carried out on hormone disrupting chemicals, the more worrying health impacts appear to be connected. Hormone disruptors in pesticides that fundamentally contaminate wildlife, the wider environment and the human food chain, plus industrial chemicals used to make consumer products are a global threat.
Chemicals policy lags many years behind the rigorous new science linking exposures to ill health; CHEM Trust is working and will continue to work at the UK, EU and global level to try and address this problem. Our work has had a strong impact, helping to improve EU chemicals policy and therefore the protection of the public and widlife across Europe and beyond. As can be seen from our blogs, talks and policy submissions we are engaged in a whole range of debates on chemical regulation, and our analysis and influence is improving outcomes.
We have numerous key strategic partners with whom we work. Many are researchers who are providing the scientific evidence we need to improve the health of future generations, others are NGO collaborators. There are also the policy and decision-makers that ‘get’ the science and the risks involved. We find working with you such an inspiration and of benefit to our work, and our impact would be so much less if we did not work together – thank you. CHEM Trust is keen to create new links to reach an even greater audience among the public, policy makers, scientists, the medical profession and chemical manufacturers’ and users.
An expanding impact
As we mature and expand, so too do our areas of work and impact. We are now highlighting the woefully inadequate food packaging legislation in the EU – that permits harmful chemicals to be used. We are calling for an update to this legislation and the good news is that the Commission appears to be listening. We are also highlighting that the circular economy is a vital process from a reducing consumption point of view, but if highly toxic chemicals are in the products that are recycled in the first place, that is a fundamentally bad idea and continues our exposure to them. The key here has to be that harmful chemicals like brominated flame retardants in electronics and soft furnishings are not permitted to be used in the first place.
The CHEM Trust Board of Trustees is a key element to our success. Again we started small with just 4 trustees back in 2007, but we have slowly expanded to a team of 7 who work individually and collectively, dynamically and tirelessly to support the daily work of the organisation. They have a multitude of skills and all areas of importance are covered from legal and governance to scientific policy and fundraising expertise. Having a strong board, and an eye for sound governance is a recipe for longevity in the NGO world. CHEM Trust has a board that ensures both.
Continuing to advocate for cleaner and safer alternatives
Back in 2007, David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of WWF-UK, said at the CHEM Trust launch:
“We are here today because man-made chemicals have contaminated every part of our planet; from polar bears in the Arctic to unborn children in the UK.
The very chemicals designed to improve our quality of life have become a growing, uncontrolled hazard.”
As early as the 1990s, scientists gathered and published the famous Wingspread Consensus Statement on hormone disruptors. This alerted the world with its prediction that:
“Unless the environmental load of synthetic hormone disruptors is abated and controlled, large scale dysfunction at the population level is possible”.
There is little doubt, in order to try and address these concerns, the EU has drafted probably the best chemicals legislation in the world. However, implementation is proving tediously slow and tricky. Some of the challenges are that the chemical industry wants ‘business as usual’ and some Member States with large chemical manufacturing interests want to water down the protective measures. However, we are not disheartened. That just makes us look forward to the next 10 years even more….
CHEM Trust will continue to highlight the threats from harmful chemicals on wildlife and people and advocate for moving towards cleaner and safer alternatives on the path towards a non-toxic environment. We look forward to working with all our allies to make this planet a cleaner and safer place.