Why Synthetic Chemicals Should be Part of Ecological Assessments

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synthetic chemicals
Pamela Freeman | Caryinstitute.org

During the second half of the 20th century, pesticides and chemical fertilizers were a major component of agriculture. Manufacturers have rapidly expanded the use of synthetic chemicals to the production of consumer and industrial goods. Research on health effects and the ecological lifetime of these chemicals hasn’t budged.

Most synthetic chemicals come from industrial sources such as food additives, household cleaning products, cosmetics, agrochemicals, and medicines. While the range and use of synthetic chemicals have grown exponentially, research focused on their ecological impact has been severely lacking since the 1970s.

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Synthetic Chemicals, Understudied Polluters

Despite advances in environmental health research, including sampling and measurement techniques, little information on the potential environmental effects of synthetic chemicals is available. When we know that more than 70,000 synthetic chemicals are now in use, we have cause for concern.

A new study, published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, reports that research on the ecological effects of synthetic chemicals is lacking.

“To date, global change assessments have ignored synthetic chemical pollution.” Said Emma J. Rosi, a freshwater ecologist at the Cary Institute and a co-author of the study, “Yet these chemicals are increasing at a rate that is on par, or more rapid than other agents of global change, such as CO2 emissions or nutrient pollution.”

The researchers have compared the trends of synthetic chemical pollution since the 1970s with other factors of global change. In examining major ecological journals, funding sources, and meetings, they found that little attention has been paid to the environmental effects of these chemicals (Less than 1% of journal articles, 1.3% of presentations and 0.01 % Of NSF grants focused on synthetic chemicals).

What you Don’t Know can Hurt you

Since the 1970s, research on the ecological impacts of synthetic chemical pollution has remained static, while their use – and their negative impacts on ecological health – is and may be steadily increasing, respectively. To better predict and reduce the environmental threat, researchers recommend the coordination of efforts among specialists, the mobilization and increase of funding, and the acceleration of research into the impact of using synthetic chemicals.

Another study says that some common chemicals in our homes are related to Type 2 diabetes, and this is just one of the ways in which these products can impact human health. According to the study’s findings, a 25% reduction in exposure to chemicals would result in a 13% reduction in diabetes among seniors. In Europe, this would represent 150,000 fewer cases and a savings of nearly €4.5 billion Euros per year.

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