Global chemical pollution is now threatening the Earth’s life support systems
This week a new scientific paper concluded that chemical pollution is now at a point where it is interfering in the vital life support systems of our planet. “The cocktail of chemical pollution that pervades the planet now threatens the stability of global ecosystems upon which humanity depends”, the scientists who conducted the study told The Guardian.
Scientists back in 2009 outlined nine planetary boundaries within which humanity can operate safely. They predicted that crossing one or more of these may be catastrophic due to the triggering of abrupt environmental change within continental or planetary scale systems. Chemical pollution was identified as one of these boundaries due to the potential negative impacts scientists believe it could have on global environmental systems.
Defining a planetary boundary for chemical pollution has been hard for a number of reasons. Toxicity data only exists for a few thousand chemicals on the market, but there are a huge number that have not been assessed for safety and there is little knowledge on the combined effects of these chemicals on the environment. Bearing these constraints in mind, the new study in Environmental Science and Technology used various measurements to conclude that despite the limitations in data, the weight of evidence suggests that the planetary boundary has been crossed.
The massive increase in production, diversity and global release of, what the paper refers to as, ‘novel entities’ (which includes plastics and chemicals), is affecting the ‘Earth’s physical and ecological systems’. And this growth is outstripping humanity’s ability to assess or manage these substances in the environment.
Getting us back into a safe operating space
As well as presenting some terrifying facts, the study also suggests ways forward. The scientists recommend a global cap on the emissions of the ‘novel entities’ in the same way we have on greenhouse gas emissions. They also suggest a more preventative and precautionary approach towards managing chemicals, something that CHEM Trust consistently champions in its policy work.
Chloe Topping from CHEM Trust said:
“CHEM Trust has recently been highlighting the interconnections between climate change, biodiversity loss and chemical pollution which is a story that is not often heard. This latest study places chemical pollution in an even wider context, showing how on a global scale chemical pollution is interfering with planetary systems.”