Sustainability Environment

Scientists say current level of chemical pollutants are dangerously high for humanity and the planet

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Compacted cardboard and paper is stored in a yard in Berlin on February 5, 2020, before being recycled. Various environmental and nature conservation associations have called on EU and German governments for stricter regulations for the packaging industry, including bans on plastics. JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • A new study found that the current level of chemical pollutants on Earth is overwhelming the environment and posing a safety risk to humanity.
  • Scientists said there are an estimated 350,000 different types of manufactured chemicals on the global market.
  • That includes plastics, which contain more than 10,000 other chemicals.

A new study has found the amount of chemical pollution produced on Earth is overwhelming the environment and has already created a dangerous space for humanity.  

In a study published this week, a group of international scientists found the amount of synthetic chemicals and other “novel entities” being produced and flooding the environment has increased too rapidly and threatens the stability of ecosystems. 

Scientists said there are an estimated 350,000 different types of manufactured chemicals on the global market, which include plastics, pesticides, industrial chemicals, chemicals in consumer products, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. These are all considered novel entities because they were created by human activities with little to no understanding of how they might impact the earth.  

“The rate at which these pollutants are appearing in the environment far exceeds the capacity of governments to assess global and regional risks, let alone control any potential problems,” said Bethanie Carney Almroth, co-author of the study from the University of Gothenburg, in a press release. 


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Global production and consumption of these novel entities are expected to only grow. Scientists said the total mass of plastics on the planet right now is more than twice the mass of all living mammals, and about 80 percent of all plastics ever produced remain in the environment today. 

“There has been a 50-fold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950. This is projected to triple again by 2050,” said Patricia Villarubia-Gómez, co-author of the study from the Stockholm Resilience Centre. 

Plastics contain more than 10,000 other chemicals, so they reduce the general health of the environment while also creating a new combination of materials. In the U.S. alone, production of plastics has seen a rapid rise, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recording 35 million tons of plastic generated in 2018. 

Carney Almroth and her fellow scientists also pointed out that activities like mining, fracking and drilling to extract raw materials are just some of the ways chemicals and plastics have negative effects on the Earth. The pollutants created from these activities can be found globally, from the Arctic to Antarctica, proving they are incredibly persistent chemicals that can be hard to control and contain. 

Scientists acknowledged that nations around the world have made major efforts to regulate chemical substances, but they simply cannot keep up with the speed of new novel entities being created. 

“We need to be working towards implementing a fixed cap on chemical production and release,” said Almroth. 

Sarah Cornell, a scientist from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, said shifting to a circular economy is one solution, which means changing materials and products so they can be reused and not wasted, designing chemicals and products so they can be recycled and strengthening the screening process of chemicals to assess their safety and sustainability. 


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