Chemical regulation boosts green innovation, finds report

Chemical manufacturers are facing fresh calls to better demonstrate the safety of their products after two new reports underlined the need for new regulations that could drive the development of greener chemicals. Some synthetically produced chemicals found in everyday goods such as electronics, personal care products and cosmetics have been found to disrupt the human endocrine system, which regulates the release of hormones that control our metabolism, growth and development, sleep and mood. A report by the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organisation (WHO) found that endocrine disrupting chemicals (ECDs) could also lead to the development of non-descended testes in young males, breast cancer in women, prostate cancer, developmental effects on the nervous system in children, attention deficit or hyperactivity in children and thyroid cancer. While some of the more dangerous ECDs have been banned, the UN and WHO fear a lack of reporting and information on chemicals in products means that many sources of EDCs are unknown. The international bodies maintain that the risk of a wide range of diseases could be reduced if there were better assessments and testing methods of these chemicals. Achim Steiner, UN under secretary-general and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director, called for more research on the issue, warning that failure to manage the challenges posed by chemicals could derail efforts to meet key development goals and undermine sustainable development initiatives. “Investing in new testing methods and research can enhance understanding of the costs of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, and assist in reducing risks, maximising benefits and spotlighting more intelligent options and alternatives that reflect a transition to a green economy,” he said. UNEP’s findings complement the conclusions of a separate report published last week by US NGO, the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), which found stricter chemical regulations help to boost green technology innovation. CIEL’s report found there was an increase in patent filings for alternative chemicals following the introduction of new laws to protect people from known hormone disrupting chemicals. The organisation believes the timing was no coincidence because the number of new inventions disclosed in patent filings from the chemical industry increased in line with the stringency of the measures. The study’s author, Baskut Tuncak, said the findings could help to knock down the argument used by some companies that chemicals regulations block innovation and economic growth. “It creates a market for green chemistry,” he told Forbes. “And not just for small ‘green chemistry’ companies, either. The big guys, like Dow and Exxon Mobil, filed more patents for alternatives to phthalates, for example, than anyone.” CIEL said the findings underline the need for new regulations to drive the market for safer alternative chemicals. It also warned that despite the increase in chemical innovations in recent years, some of the new alternative chemicals registered had a high-degree of structural similarity to the hazardous chemicals they replaced. “Overcoming the inertia of entrenched toxic chemicals typically requires the power of the government,” said the report. “To increase the likelihood that safer alternatives will be pulled into the market, chemical laws need to clearly identify hazardous properties that are not acceptable in society.”

Business Green, 20 February 2013 ;