Increases in synthetic chemical production, and diversification of pharmaceuticals and pesticides, outpace known agents of global change

Production of synthetic chemicals is far outpacing the ability of scientists to study their effects

According to a new analysis in the journal Frontiers of Ecology and Environment, the rate of increase in the production and diversification of pharmaceuticals and pesticides exceeds that of most previously recognized agents of global change, such as habitat destruction and even CO2 emissions. But, reports the analysis — by Emily Bernhardt of Duke University and colleagues — the amount of scientific attention being paid to them, and particularly their possible ecological impacts, is disproportionately low.

2017 Study Abstract

Image credit The Ecological Society of America via Science X network.

Though concerns about the proliferation of synthetic chemicals – including pesticides – gave rise to the modern environmental movement in the early 1960s, synthetic chemical pollution has not been included in most analyses of global change. We examined the rate of change in the production and variety of pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and other synthetic chemicals over the past four decades. We compared these rates to those for well-recognized drivers of global change such as rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, nutrient pollution, habitat destruction, and biodiversity loss. Our analysis showed that increases in synthetic chemical production and diversification, particularly within the developing world, outpaced these other agents of global change. Despite these trends, mainstream ecological journals, ecological meetings, and ecological funding through the US National Science Foundation devote less than 2% of their journal pages, meeting talks, and science funding, respectively, to the study of synthetic chemicals.

More Information

  • Synthetic chemicals as agents of global change, Frontiers of Ecology and Environment, 24 January 2017.
  • Chemical Pollution Is Soaring Faster Than We Can Measure It, seeker, Feb 1, 2017
  • SYNTHETIC CHEMICALS UNDERSTUDIED DRIVERS OF ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, January 24, 2017.
  • Science Is Falling Woefully Behind in Testing New Chemicals, smithsonianmag, FEBRUARY 3, 2017.
  • Synthetic chemicals: Ignored agents of global change,, January 24, 2017.

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