The future is green
In 2022 “go green or go broke” is a familiar slogan in the business and marketing world. Private companies now spend millions on ‘green’ research and development projects to find safer and more sustainable alternatives to agrichemicals and petrochemicals to follow changing consumer attitudes.
Statistics indicate that the average European consumer is increasingly becoming ‘Eco-Conscious’. ‘Eco-Conscious’ consumers can be defined as internet users aged 16-64 who say that concern for the environment affects their day-to-day buying decisions.
And why wouldn’t they? In the information age it is increasingly difficult to fool the average consumer. A click of a button can show you the exact chemicals and e-numbers found in everyday products. For example, from deodorants to weed killers, the use of butane in sprays or the composition of glyphosate in gardening has historically been linked to blood cancer in humans or caused serious damage to the environment.
In 2007 the European Commission sought to protect the European consumer from such misinformation and toxic chemicals, through its Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restrictions of Chemicals regulation (REACH). In 2022, it stands as one of the most comprehensive and protective regulatory frameworks for chemicals in the world and celebrates its 15th anniversary today. It continues to significantly improve the protection of human health and the environment by banning hazardous chemicals, whilst encouraging innovation and keeping the EU's chemical industry competitive.
As science evolves, new threats are yet to be discovered and therefore a large majority of Europeans remain cautious about the impact of chemicals on their health and the environment. In response to these realities and aiming at ambitious environmental and health objectives by 2030 the Commission launched Europe’s Green Deal. This targets the issues through the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, and the Zero Pollution Action Plan. Among the different planned actions, several topics were launched under Horizon 2020 to fund projects on the matter.
The European Research Executive Agency (REA) Green Europe Department is responsible for these topics, and manages Biodiversity, Circular Economy and the Environment. They deal with the improvement of hazard identification by chemicals and their mixtures, and the monitoring and removal of toxic chemicals from waste, soil and water. They continue to fund and explore a wide range of diverse chemical research projects to the benefit of the European consumer. The following represent just a few exciting initiatives.
Zero pollution of Persistent, Mobile substances
Substances that do not degrade in the environment can be defined as Persistent and Mobile (PM). The combination of persistence and mobility means these substances can reach drinking water sources and are difficult to remove. This is why the EU is funding ZeroPM, a project that works on identifying opportunities for strengthening, refining, and enforcing EU chemicals policy to better regulate PM substances. The project will establish an evidence-based multilevel framework to guide policy, technological and market incentives to minimize use, emissions and pollution of entire groups of PM substances. ZeroPM strongly roots itself in the EU's Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, as it sees preventative solutions as the most efficient pathway to achieve a greener and more economically robust Europe.
Find out more about: ZeroPM
Innovative tool for chemical mixtures exposure assessment
The toxicological impact of exposure to chemical mixtures (such as radiation or mercury in fish) is a matter of undisputed concern, but chemical mixtures are only slowly making their way into regulatory risk assessment. Critical knowledge gaps exist about chemicals mixture effects in the environment and in humans. That is why the PANORAMIX project will take advantage of a well-studied human cohort of new-borns, in whom adverse health outcomes related to developmental toxicity originating from chemical mixture exposure are identified. The project will use experimental data to deliver a web-based interface for calculating risks to chemical mixtures. The objective will be to define effect-based trigger values for in vitro effects that can be directly measured in water, food, and blood to identify when mixture exposure is posing a threat to health.
Find out more about: PANORAMIX
Assessing effects of drugs and pollutants on foetal health
The preterm birth rate is increasing: in Europe, about 75 % of all neonatal deaths and 60 % of all infant deaths occur in infants born preterm (born or occurring after a pregnancy significantly shorter than normal). Every pregnant woman must live in a better and safer environment. The EU-funded LIFESAVER project will create a new digitally cloned in vitro system for emulation of prenatal conditions for drugs and pollutants transported at the uterine/placental interface. The system relies on the hybridisation of innovative technologies, integrating in vitro systems to enable screening for chemicals and pharmaceuticals that could affect the health of pregnant women. At the same time, it will reduce animal, pre-clinical and clinical testing needs.
Find out more about: LIFESAVER
Identifying industrial chemicals in soil and water
To help Europe reach its ambitious Green Deal objectives, the EU-funded PROMISCES project will identify how industrial pollution prevents the development of a circular economy in the EU. It will detect strategies to overcome the principal bottlenecks that impede reaching the targets of the European Green Deal and Circular Economy Action Plan. The project will develop new analytical methods and toxicological tools to deliver data on persistent, mobile (PM) substances in complex environmental matrices. The project will investigate sources of PM substances released from soil, sediments, landfills and wastewater treatment plants and via urban runoff into relevant natural systems. PROMISCES will assess fate and transport processes and improve the assessment and management of human health risks.
Find out more about: PROMISCES
Chemicals looking forward
In the run up to Green Week, MEPs have made special calls to ban forever chemicals (technically known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances PFAS). They earned their nickname because they are considered almost indestructible. Their days of invincibility are clearly numbered however as REA continues to harness the power of innovation to fund and find new alternatives to the benefit of the European consumer. The EU’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability and the Zero Pollution Action Plan will take time and patience yet ultimately yield critical results.
- Publication date
- 1 June 2022
- European Research Executive Agency