chemical detox program

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More important than growth is the quality and effects on well-being of what the economic system offers to social life.

The evidence on the toxic nature of wealth in contemporary societies is increasingly robust. What has become conventionally called “everyday pollution” is not only found in food (in the form of pesticides) and in the air (from the burning of fossil fuels), but also in toys, baby bottles, diapers, electronic devices, food packaging, etc. cosmetics, furniture, clothing, in water, soil and, increasingly, of course, in our bodies.

report of André Trigueiro shows the identification of plastic nanoparticles in the blood of human beings, mainly coming from PET bottles, plastic bags and food packaging. But, in addition to plastic, everyday pollution derives from the large-scale use of a set of chemical products that contain endocrine disruptors (which affect the body's hormonal functions) and carcinogenic vectors that are dangerous to human and animal health.

Electronic waste, for example, rose from 44 million tons in 2014 to 53,6 million tons in 2019. If the current pace continues, in 2030 each inhabitant of the planet will generate 10 kg of electronic waste. Attention: this is not the weight of the electronic devices in use, but the weight of their waste, that is, 10 kg of electronic waste per inhabitant of the Earth per year. Mercury, cadmium, flame retardant, plastics are just some of the components of this waste that poisons water, soil and even the air, especially when incinerated.

In the European Union alone, the consumption of harmful chemicals reached 230 million tons in 2020. Added to them are over 80 million tons of products considered harmful to the environment, according to Eurostat data.

There are 12 chemical products potentially causing cancer, infertility and reduced vaccine effectiveness circulating in European markets. According to the World Chemicals Information Authority (Chemical abstracts Service), it took 50 years (between 1965 and 2016) for the registration of new substances to reach the 100 million mark. Between 2016 and 2018 alone, however, there were 30 million new records, one every 1,4 seconds, as shown by an important document from the United Nations.

Of course, this is not an exclusively European problem — and it is important to emphasize, in this sense, the advance of contamination also coming from the pharmaceutical industry. One study by North American experts identified 58 different pharmaceuticals in fish bones collected along the 200 miles of Florida coastline.

Another study of a consortium of 127 authors from 86 institutions from several countries examined active pharmaceutical ingredients in 258 rivers on which 471 million people directly depend. The work shows a level of active pharmaceutical ingredients in several rivers, threatening human health and contributing to strengthen antimicrobial resistance, due to the presence of antibiotic residues in the water.

Brazilian studies go in the same direction. O Water Map, prepared by the Repórter Brasil agency, shows the existence of chemical and radioactive products in the water supply system of 763 municipalities.

In this context, the strategy of the Green Deal European, designed in 2020 to achieve an environment without toxic products. It is not difficult to imagine the industrial resistance to the regulation of this objective, when it is known that chemistry corresponds to the fourth largest industrial sector in the European Union, with no less than 28 thousand companies, including giants such as Bayer and Basf. In 2018, Europe was the world's second largest producer of chemicals (just behind China). The sector earned 3,5 billion euros (R$ 18,5 billion) in 2019 and the forecast at the time was to double this result by 2030.

As shown in the newspaper Le Monde, the European bureaucracy is experiencing a struggle between its leadership in charge of the internal market and industry (DG Grow, which insists on presenting chemical products as “essential to our well-being and our high standards of living”) and that in charge of the environment.

Therefore, it is essential to celebrate what the European Environment Bureau, a network of 170 civil society organizations from 35 European countries, does not hesitate to call it “the great detox”. Last Monday, the European Comission published a regulatory roadmap of restrictions to “guarantee an environment free of toxic substances by 2030”. It is the most ambitious measure to combat chemical pollution in the history of current societies. The list of products to be eliminated from the European industrial landscape in the next eight years is immense.

When fundamentalist fanaticism leaves the Planalto and Esplanada dos Ministérios, it will be fundamental for Anvisa (National Health Surveillance Agency) to assert its technical competence, internationally recognized, so that Brazil also has an ambitious plan with clearly established goals to eliminate chemicals from the chemical industry and to reduce pharmaceutical waste to a minimum.

This is not and cannot be treated as an “environmental” issue. It is the most emblematic portrait of the way in which the offer of goods and services is organized. Thinking about job recovery, the reduction of inequalities, the fight against hunger, mobility, civil construction without the elimination of these harmful substances being at the top of the agenda is to perpetuate the destructive illusion that toxic components are a lesser evil in the face of of the comfort that the products that use them provide.

Of course, our greater urgency is more fundamental. It consists, first of all, in combating criminal activities that, supported by the federal government, contaminate people, waters and soils with mercury, especially in the Amazon, in illegal mining, based on invasion and violence against indigenous peoples and residents of other protected areas.

But the great chemical detox that the European Union is carrying out shows that more important than growth is the quality and effects on well-being of what the economic system offers to social life. And the data show that these two expressions (economic growth and well-being) do not necessarily go together.

*Ricardo Abramovay is senior professor at the Institute of Energy and Environment at USP. Author, among other books, of Amazon: towards an economy based on the knowledge of nature (Elephant/Third Way).

Originally published on Portal UOL.


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