Environmental goal not...
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Environmental goal not achieved by 2020

19 June 2012

It is not possible to achieve the environmental quality objective A Non-Toxic Environment by 2020 with the policy instruments used today. This assessment is made by the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KemI) in the in-depth evaluation of the national environmental objectives that was submitted to the Swedish Government on 14 June.

For some substances where extensive measures have been taken, a positive trend has been seen in the environment. Increasing consumption leads to increased global production of chemicals and articles, and to diffuse spreading of hazardous substances. Persistent substances dispersed in the environment and included in articles and buildings can affect people and the environment for long periods.

In order to prevent harmful effects on humans and the environment hazardous substances need to be identified and their use limited. New EU rules encourage to increased knowledge of the hazardous properties of substances, but nevertheless it is considered that the knowledge will not be sufficient to make risk assessments by 2020. In addition, new risks of chemical substances might occur, which may mean further delay.

Restrictions on the use of particularly hazardous substances have begun through EU rules but further efforts are needed, including international conventions and technological development. In the long run conditions will become sufficient for the environmental quality objective to be achieved if additional measures are implemented.

The Swedish Chemicals Agency and the report Steg på vägen (Steps ahead) point out that further efforts are needed in several areas. As for the development of legislation, for example:

  • The EU chemicals legislation REACH needs to be developed, in particular in terms of information requirements for substances in lower volumes as well as endocrine disruptors, substances in nano form and combined effects of substances.
  • The traditional risk management assesses each chemical individually. There should also be increased opportunities for risk reduction of groups of substances based on overall assessments.
  • Hazardous substances in consumer products need to be restricted and a system for this developed.
  • Today's consumption patterns with more products in circulation cause, among other things, that children are exposed to many more substances than a few decades ago. Chemicals legislation needs a level of protection based on the children and other vulnerable groups.

Efforts are needed in several areas

Work with international agreements as the Stockholm Convention and the upcoming global convention on mercury are important tools in limiting the global spread of chemical substances. Sweden needs to continue the international development cooperation to support other countries to develop chemical legislation and institutions. Supervision needs to increase, in Sweden and the EU, so that the introduced policy instruments are complied with.

The role of companies is important. Some companies are responsible, take the lead and reduce risks more than is required by regulations. Their self-initiated work needs to be supported. Other instruments also need to be examined, such as how public procurement and environmental management systems can be used as a driving tool.

Research is needed especially with regard to endocrine disruptors, combination effects and substances in nano form. Research and innovation in green chemistry and sustainable use of chemicals are needed to develop chemical substances with better environmental and health properties in line with the environmental objective A Non-Toxic Environment. This should cover substances throughout their life cycle, including development phase and waste disposal.


Stefan Gabring
Principal Scientific Officer

Other websites

The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency

Read the report Steg på vägen (executive English summary on page 16)