Chemicals are everywhere and new substances are regularly being introduced to the market. However, only some pose a risk to the environment. How do we decide which of them to monitor? A new study using a database of chemicals found in fish in the Baltic Sea has assessed which chemicals are commonly monitored. The researchers suggest that monitoring is biased towards known, already regulated hazardous chemicals, and recommend changes to address other chemicals.
The dilemma in prioritizing chemicals for environmental analysis: known versus unknown hazards, Royal Society of Chemistry, 05 May 2016.
Musa Bay, earthobservatory.nasa.
A major challenge for society is to manage the risks posed by the many chemicals continuously emitted to the environment. All chemicals in production and use cannot be monitored and science-based strategies for prioritization are essential.
In this study we review available data to investigate which substances are included in environmental monitoring programs and published research studies reporting analyses of chemicals in Baltic Sea fish between 2000 and 2012. Our aim is to contribute to the discussion of priority settings in environmental chemical monitoring and research, which is closely linked to chemical management. In total, 105 different substances or substance groups were analyzed in Baltic Sea fish. Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were the most studied substances or substance groups. The majority, 87%, of all analyses comprised 20% of the substances or substance groups, whereas 46 substance groups (44%) were analyzed only once. Almost three quarters of all analyses regarded a POP-substance (persistent organic pollutant).
These results demonstrate that the majority of analyses on environmental contaminants in Baltic Sea fish concern a small number of already regulated chemicals. Legacy pollutants such as POPs pose a high risk to the Baltic Sea due to their hazardous properties. Yet, there may be a risk that prioritizations for chemical analyses are biased based on the knowns of the past. Such biases may lead to society failing in identifying risks posed by yet unknown hazardous chemicals. Alternative and complementary ways to identify priority chemicals are needed. More transparent communication between risk assessments performed as part of the risk assessment process within REACH and monitoring programs, and information on chemicals contained in consumer articles, would offer ways to identify chemicals for environmental analysis.