Between 1930 and 2000 global production of man-made chemicals increased from 1 million to 400 million tonnes each year.While no-one would deny that some chemicals bring significant benefits to society - through their use in healthcare for example - unfortunately some chemicals are damaging wildlife and people, and we still don't know enough about their long-term effects.
The growing body of scientific research on chemical contamination exposes a sobering picture. Wherever scientists look - the tropics, marine systems, industrial regions, the Arctic - they find the impacts of our toxic chemicals.
Widespread contaminationMan-made chemicals are in use all around us - from pesticides to cosmetics and baby bottles to computers - our 21st century society depends on them.
During their manufacture and use, chemicals are released into the environment. They can travel vast distances by air or water and are also absorbed by wildlife and humans through the skin or ingested in food and water. What chemicals are used in your daily life?
Hazardous man-made chemicals have contaminated every environment, and wildlife - including birds, polar bears, frogs, alligators and panthers - is known to be suffering.
And up to 300 man-made chemicals have been found in humans.
Harmful propertiesThere is particular concern about 3 types of chemicals in use today. These are:
- very persistent and very bioaccumulative chemicals which break down slowly or not at all, and accumulate in the bodies of wildlife and people
- Endochrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) which interfere with the hormone systems of animals and people
- chemicals which cause cancer, reproductive problems, or damage DNA
Shocking lack of safety informationCurrently only 14% of the chemicals used in the largest volumes have the minimum amount of data publicly available to make an initial basic safety assessment.
Reduce your risks
There are simple actions you can take to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals. And protect wildlife from the toxic threat.
Arctic - the world's toxic sink
Despite living in one of the most remote regions in the world, Arctic wildlife and people are suffering the effects of industrial chemicals produced thousands of kilometres away. Polar bears are just one of the victims of this chemical contamination.
Find out how chemicals reach the arctic