Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), bisphenol A and many other substances have carcinogenic or hormone-like effects. Almost all people now carry them inside themselves and they are ubiquitous in the environment. But even enforcing national bans or limit values is difficult. What can an international body like the World Chemicals Council achieve here?
To be honest, the IPCC has achieved very little on a practical level so far. Company2Emissions continue to rise around the world. This is mainly because this Science Policy Committee has no real power to act, but only an advisory function. Such a committee could make suggestions to politicians about how to do things better, but it does not have any guidelines. Accordingly, I expect the World Chemicals Council to provide the public with scientifically based reports that clearly state: this is the problem, these are the causes, and these are the possible solutions.
You are the president of the International Council of Chemists…
I urgently need to clarify the misunderstanding. In 2004, at a specialized conference hosted in Berlin, I proposed the establishment of a global chemicals council – along the lines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Biodiversity Board (IPBES). Accordingly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Chemical Pollution should have been called the IPCP. Except for a few colleagues in science, no one was interested in it at the time and the idea failed. Next we have Established the International Commission on Chemical Pollution, of which I am president. So we are a non-governmental organization (NGO). We did this to keep the proposal alive. We thought that if we didn’t achieve anything politically, we would at least create a scientific forum to exchange ideas on the topic. Only about five years ago this issue gained new momentum, and in 2022 the United Nations Environment Assembly decided to establish a true intergovernmental commission.
What motivates you personally to get involved in such a wild field?
I want to help ordinary people, especially government officials, see more clearly that we cannot continue to flood the world with potentially harmful chemicals in an uncontrollable way. Some materials pose a real danger to humans, animals and the environment. There are a lot of them in circulation, and they are everywhere – and microplastics have already been discovered even in inhospitable places like Antarctica and the Arctic. Recently, a study concluded that almost everyone in Europe is exposed to high levels of BPA. This is not good, it has to change. As a chemist, I bear a certain responsibility for this. It is not enough to simply express yourself scientifically, rather knowledge must be presented in a way that is understandable to everyone.
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