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Chemical Pollution Now Exceeds Safe Limit: Study

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Chemical Pollution Now Exceeds Safe Limit: Study

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A new study warns that the amount of chemical pollution on the planet has now exceeded a safe limit, threatening the “viability” of human civilization.

An international team of researchers published their findings in the journal Environmental science and technology Tuesday. Their study builds on a paper led by Sweden in 2009 that established the safe limit, otherwise known as the “planetary limit”, for several environmental measures, including greenhouse gas emissions, ozone layer depletion, deforestation, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification and chemical pollution.

The planet had remained within these boundaries for 10,000 years since the beginning of human civilization. But a 2015 study concluded that by then we had exceeded safe limits on climate change, biodiversity loss, soil nutrient alteration and land use. Now, this new study indicates that we are beyond the planetary limits of chemical pollution, also called “new entities”.

“The impact of these changes is on the viability of human civilization,” study co-author Miriam Diamond, a professor of environmental science at the University of Toronto, told by phone Friday. “We are very concerned that there is a tipping point at which human civilization is truly in peril.”

There are approximately 350,000 different chemicals produced around the world. These chemicals are implicated in everything from plastics, pesticides, manufacturing, industrial applications, pharmaceuticals and more.

“It means everything from what’s in my toothpaste to what I’m wearing,” Diamond said. “We mobilize so many chemicals in our daily lives, the implications of which we are able to understand so little.”

These chemicals are ubiquitous. They are found on all seven continents, in the atmosphere and even in the Mariana Trench – the deepest part of all the oceans.


Chemical production has increased 50 times worldwide since 1950 and researchers expect it to triple by 2050. Plastic pollution alone increased by 79% between 2000 and 2015 and is expected to reach 33 billion tons by 2050.

“The rate of production and the rate at which new chemicals enter commerce far exceeds the rate at which we can determine their effects,” Diamond said.

Some of the adverse effects of these chemicals can be clearly seen in certain animal populations. For example, polychlorinated biphenyl, an industrial chemical that was banned in North America in the 1970s, continues to persist in our ecosystems and has been linked to reduced fertility in killer whales and polar bears, threatening their populations. . Seabirds have also been observed ingesting plastic while mistaking it for food, often resulting in death.

“You can find a synthetic chemical in every organism on the planet,” Diamond said.

In humans, numerous studies have found a correlation between exposure to certain chemicals and reduced fertility, lower IQ, and even weaker immune functions.

“It’s a big, big body of evidence. It’s not just one study. It’s many studies, from toxicology studies done in test tubes, to rats and mice, and to epidemiological studies in humans,” Diamond said.

At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his intention to impose a hard cap on oil and gas emissions. Diamond thinks similar measures should be taken to limit the production of chemical pollutants.

“Canada is so behind the times. You know, that’s bad news for Canadians, because at the end of the day…reducing our reliance on so many synthetic chemicals will benefit our prosperity because it will drive innovation,” a- she declared. “Canada must be a leader.

Chemical Pollution Now Exceeds Safe Limit: Study

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