The report sets out the growing problem of chemical pollutants that are ubiquitous in the environment, and offers a range of measures the Government should act upon to ensure a ‘non-toxic environment for the UK’ in the future.

Exeter experts help shape report into future ‘non-toxic environment’ for the UK

Experts from the University of Exeter have played a pivotal role in shaping a new Government report to combat exposure to toxic chemicals in the home.

Professor Tamara Galloway OBE and Professor Michael Depledge CBE provided expert evidence to the UK Environmental Audit Committee as part of their new report called Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life, published today (Tuesday July 16th)

The report sets out the growing problem of chemical pollutants that are ubiquitous in the environment, and offers a range of measures the Government should act upon to ensure a ‘non-toxic environment for the UK’ in the future.

Among the key recommendations are:

  • A phase out in the use of chemicals harmful to the environment, including substances of very high concern
  • Launch a biomonitoring programme to establish levels of chemical exposure among UK population
  • Reform labelling systems for chemicals in consumer products

Professor Galloway, an eco-toxicologist in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Exeter, is one of the world’s foremost experts in investigating how plastics and the chemicals they contain can permeate the food chain of all creatures, including humans.

Her work played a crucial role in the recent banning of microbeads from cosmetics and cleaning products – meaning 4,000 tonnes are no longer released into the ocean.

Speaking as the report is launched, Professor Galloway said: “Hazardous chemicals and other pollutants are now ubiquitous in humans and the environment.

“This report makes a number of clear and much needed recommendations, including the need to transition rapidly to a more circular economy approach to chemicals, labelling, packaging and waste.”

Professor Michael Depledge, Emeritus Professor of Environment and Human Health and former Member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, urged action on monitoring environmental contaminants to assess the threat they pose to the UK population.

He said: “We need to decide what kind of chemical environment we are willing to live in in the coming years’ We should adopt a ‘do no harm’ approach, mirroring the medical approach where effort is put in to try to minimise that harm.”

Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh said:“Most people assume that they aren’t at risk from toxic chemicals but the reality is different.

“Mums in the UK have some of the world’s highest concentrations of flame retardants in their breast milk, some of which have now been banned. Chemical flame retardants are still being widely used in our furnishings from children’s mattresses to sofas. Meanwhile the Government is sitting on its hands instead of changing regulations to ensure that the most toxic chemicals are taken out of use.

“I find it appalling that a government department should take nearly three years to respond to a public consultation and we’re still waiting.”

Last year, the University of Exeter Business School launched its new Centre for Circular Economy, to work with business and governments on a global scale to support research and educational innovations to ensure products and services are redefined and there is less waste and negative impact.

The centre was also awarded £1 million to create a new centre to tackle the use of plastic and plastic waste in December. The Exeter Multidisciplinary Plastics Research Hub (ExeMPLaR) is one of eight prestigious new research projects across the UK designed to investigate alternatives to fossil-based materials for plastics.

It also looks into the complex factors involved in the life cycle of plastic materials, from consumers’ and business’ needs and behaviours, to how to use technology to reclaim or break down plastics.

Date: 16 July 2019

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