Comments on the UK Consultation Document Managing Chemicals for a Better Environment
Issued by The Environment Agency

25th September 2002
FAO: Emma Passmore
Chemicals Policy,
Block 1 Government Buildings,
Burghill Road,
Bristol, BS10 6BF.

Dear Ms Passmore,

I have only recently been notified about this consultation and have been asked to comment.
Perhaps the Environmental Agency is not able to control the real chemical risks to the environment?
Many of the truly dangerous risks are beyond the control of nation states. Radiation, PCBs, POPs, acid rain, ozone depletion, endocrine disrupting chemicals, pesticides, and the release of alien or genetically engineered animals, insects and plants, are international issues and yet the document suggests that the Environment Agency will have some effect on these potential environmental disasters.,br> Quote “,i>regardless of the stage at which a substance enters the environment or the chemical regime governing its use. This reflects the diverse contribution the Agency makes to the management of many chemicals. This contribution spans aspects of production, marketing, use, transport, disposal, and accidental and deliberate releases throughout a chemical's lifecycle.”
I suggest that the agency knows very well that it is not in control or effective.

In “Key area 1: Our approach to assessing priorities and the key tools” the document asks in “2b. Are there any significant gaps in our suggested approach where you would like to suggest alternative solutions?
I suggest that the main gap in the strategy is the failure to enforce current regulations, which were designed to prevent pollution occurring in the first instance.
For example, in agriculture there is a wealth of legislation designed to prevent pollution by chemicals but those regulations are rarely enforced effectively. Environmental prosecutions usually follow breaches of regulation after damage is done, and not for breaches in procedure which might result in pollution.

In Key area 2 under research priorities we are asked “3a. Have we identified the right research priorities? 3b. If not, where should our chemicals research be targeted?
It would be wise to test the claims made by the chemical companies before making assumptions that those claims are actually true. Vital research should be independently performed on the effects of sub-clinical low-level exposures to cumulative poisons. These risks were recognized years ago by scientists who had themselves suffered from such effects but today their work is being undermined.

In Key area 3 the Agency’s approach to specific chemical issues is referred to and the agency asks in 4a. “What priority should the Agency give to endocrine disruption and effects of complex effluents in the environment?
Surely the Agency knows that effluents are contaminated by a wide range of chemicals, drugs, and pesticide residues, all of which may be endocrine disrupting agents. The sensible approach would be to prevent the contamination at an early stage and not to try to deal with the effects later.
After all, farmyard manures and human sewage waste have been used for centuries as valuable fertiliser and it is only in recent decades that such products have seriously endangered human and animal health.
The document asks in 4b. How we envisage biological effects measures being used in future but the task of the Agency must surely be to prevent such effects before they can be measured?
This brings me to 4c and the question ”Which groups of chemicals should be priorities for further investigation and control?
There are too many to list here but I would suggest that hydrocarbon release in formulations used in pesticides, cleaning agents and perfumed products should be a priority in addition to the phasing out of all organophosphorus compounds. This will of course seriously limit the development of genetically modified crops which rely on herbicides which are organophosphorus chemicals and which have recently been demonstrated to be nerve toxins and endocrine disruptors.
Other cumulative poisons such as synthetic pyrethroids and organochlorines should also be priorities as mentioned in 5a and 5B in the pollution reduction policy in addition to radioactive sources etc.

Key area 4 refers to Environmental Agency partnership activities but the Agency should be independent of industry in all areas. Chemical issues can be addressed independently of the industry and it cannot be right for an Agency whose purpose is to regulate pollution to be allied to any industry that would be a potential polluter. The Agency should pursue a partnership with the people who are, like the Agency, interested in maintaining a clean environment and it should make the ending of chemical release into the environment an urgent priority.

Key area 5 refers to the Agency’s approach to communication and asks if there are other communication approaches we would like to be considered?
Well yes there are. Locally we had an interesting incident in which a high profile farmer illegally buried cyanide. The chosen spot for burial was in the catchment area for a water bottling plant employing local disabled people. It was against all regulations to bury the pesticide but despite this the farmer was not prosecuted. Some would say that was a fair decision given that the farmer had already been fined heavily for no less than 11 breaches of pesticide regulation but was it the right decision?
More importantly perhaps I was asked to contact the Health and Safety Executive about this matter, given that the regulations for disposal of empty cyanide containers are very strict. What happened next surprised me for the HSE suggested that I wrote to the Environment Agency. I thought it would be a waste of my time but what I didn’t know was that HSE had forwarded my letters to the Environment Agency, along with some very unhelpful observations and a promise to help the Agency “deal with him” if I was foolish enough to write. You will note that the would-be mass poisoner was all but let off whilst attempts were made to discredit those who were trying to prevent further harm being done.
HSE has a major role in the prevention of pollution but it has failed us on too many occasions.
Communications should be open and unbiased in accordance with the Seven Principles of Public Life.

The duties and powers of the Agency are listed as; responsibility to act as part of the UK competent authority for notification of new substances and to undertake environmental risk assessments on ‘existing’ substances; ensure operators control releases of chemicals to all environmental media from major industrial sources; assess the presence and effect of chemicals in, and on, the water environment from all sources; exercise our powers to meet water quality objectives; determine operational requirements for landfill sites for hazardous and non-hazardous wastes; administer the consignment system for Special waste; act as the enforcement authority for contaminated land designated as special sites and advise local authorities on other determined sites; prevent pollution by working with industry and Government to reduce chemical impacts on the environment where we have no direct regulatory powers; and to report on emissions for regulated processes through the Pollution Inventory.
All of these actions are taken after the chemical has been released. They protect no one.
I saw a report recently that no less than 222 sites in the UK have been given permits to take dangerous waste. That is 222 areas of the UK in which local residents risk serious adverse health effects including cancers and deformities in unborn children. Is this protecting the environment or is it managing risk?

In “Principles” it is suggested that “Three broad principles are adopted throughout the strategy to help us achieve our aims: 1. Management of chemicals to achieve levels in the environment that will not adversely affect human health and the environment; 2. The progressive reduction of emissions and losses of hazardous substances to the environment where economically and technically feasible;
3. The need for sustainable production and use of chemicals.
” I suggest that 1, the lowest level at which there is no adverse effect on the human metabolism is not known; 2, that the need to progressively reduce emission levels is evidence of known harmful effects and that these dangerous levels have been accepted to date; and 3, that the Agency protects industry.

In 2.2 it is stated that “We will take account of society’s aspirations, and community responses to environmental degradation and improvements. The likely costs and benefits to society will also be taken into account in our decision-making process.” But as we have seen demonstrated time and time again with regard to GM crops, pesticides, and radiation, the wishes of society have been ignored in favour of a determined effort to hide the real dangers and promote the preferred option of government.

There is a real danger that in prioritising the monitoring of certain groups of pollutants. Some serious adverse effects of those not monitored will be overlooked and if the Agency is to take the proposed step to “,i>Remove substance from consideration” new information on a removed chemical’s data may well be overlooked. This could be extremely dangerous, especially with the unknown effects of multiple chemical exposures. Each pollutant should not be examined in isolation.
To “Maintain a watching brief “ as suggested by the document requires that the Agency is given reliable information.”– currently low risk identified from both knowledge of hazard and potential for exposure or environmental data”, may in fact be a false assumption based on inaccurate or outdated data.

The relative importance of different air emissions for benzene in the UK is discussed in the document and it is of interest that a mechanic told me long before unleaded fuel was introduced that the new fuels presented a far greater risk to human health because of the toxicity of chemicals such as benzene in them.
What is of even greater concern is that aircraft cause far more pollution than motorways full of cars.
There have been major fines paid by industries and individuals who have accidentally contaminated water with fuel oils, and quite rightly so. Oil storage tanks must now have containment areas if volumes over a set quantity are stored in order to protect the environment and to prevent such water contamination.
Cars must pass emissions tests at MOT testing centers or they are banned from the road in efforts to reduce air pollution. All very laudable but compare this to polluting aircraft for which it is said that the pollution from just one, two-minute 747 take-off is equal to operating 2.4 million lawnmowers simultaneously. The Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in the USA stated that volatile organic compounds in jet exhaust, precisely 1.3-butadiene and benzene pose increased health risks in the exposed populace for leukaemia and thyroid cancer and a “1993 US - EPA STUDY OF MIDWAY AIRPORT exhibited massive amounts of known carcinogens coming from aircraft engines in tons-per-year. It also predicted that it produced more than 400 times the allowable cancer risks to the population than that of a Federal Superfund Cleanup Site (a toxic waste dump), as a direct result of exposure to these airport toxins”. But there is another serious problem.
The aircraft frame is designed to carry its payload safely on take-off but that weight is too great to allow the aircraft to land and so if there is an emergency the aircraft must dump its fuel if it is to land safely.
Some 90, 000 litres of fuel must be jettisoned, usually at heights at which the fuel vaporises.
This is designed-in pollution on a massive scale and inevitably results in both air and water pollution.
No attempt has been made to halt or to reduce this danger to the environment or to our health.
In fact there is a determined plan to increase air traffic and therefore increase the pollution.
It is interesting that Tributyltin use has been restricted and ship releases are controlled in order to protect the marine environment when aircraft can legally dump fuel by the tonne over the sea. Even if vaporized in the atmosphere that fuel must fall to the waterways eventually and, as with pesticides, very little research has been performed to determine the exact environmental fate of these chemicals and their effect on the life forms exposed to them, or how they will react with other pollutants in the environment.
Can a local approach ever be effective in reducing such pollution since it is the direct result of aircraft design and internationally accepted standards?

The Agency’s “approach to controlling persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals and human carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxicants” must take into account the increasing pressure to promote GM crops and the dangerous herbicides upon which they rely. As the document states “the application of insecticides, can cause widespread effects” and the same is true for herbicides which have insecticidal or endocrine system disrupting properties. The Agency admits that “Long-term or chronic effects are most likely to be realised if a chemical is continuously or frequently released, or if it persists in the environment. These effects include sub-lethal ones that may compromise reproductive success, thus affecting populations even if individual survival is not obviously impaired.
With the ever increasing dependence on the herbicides for which GM crops are designed, and increasing use of GM crops which emit insecticides continuously, there is an obvious and admitted risk to the environment. A major chemical in this group has recently been demonstrated as an endocrine disruptor.
Roundup interferes with a fundamental protein called StAR (steroidogenic acute regulatory protein). The StAR protein is key to the production of testosterone in men (thus controlling male characteristics, including sperm production) but also the production of adrenal hormone (essential for brain development), carbohydrate metabolism (leading to loss or gain of weight), and immune system function. The authors point out that "a disruption of the StAR protein may underlie many of the toxic effects of environmental pollutants." [EHP Vol. 108, No. 8 (August 2000), pgs. 769-776.]
Any progression towards the commercial use of these crops is fraught with environmental dangers.
This particular chemical is the perfect example of why the Agency should be wary of published chemical safety data, which has convinced the less well informed that the chemical is entirely “safe”.
Paraquat is another chemical with known dangers, and one widely used, and yet it was banned decades ago in Germany for fear that certain environmental factors could break the bond with the soil and release the deadly toxin into ground water. I understand that it has now also been banned in the USA, probably to help the sales of Roundup, but we are still using the chemical here in the UK.
No doubt it is assumed that organophosphorus chemicals are not environmental concerns because of the claimed rapid breakdown in water but if that is the case then the Agency should think again. Some of the commercial pesticide formulations retain their actions for years after dilution and it would appear that some part of the undeclared formulation actually protects the active ingredients from breakdown. Other OP formulations are admitted to form even more deadly compounds as they break down so it would be quite wrong to rely on claims that such chemicals have no adverse environmental effect, especially as it would seem that they are found in ground water.

All these issues should have equal importance in answer to Question 4 on “priorities”. It would be quite wrong to overlook nerve poisons if controls and research concentrate on endocrine disruptors or to overlook carcinogenic chemicals whilst acting on those with mutagenic properties.
Priority chemicals as mentioned in Question 5 must include all the above mentioned and any new chemicals being introduced without independent checks on their true nature, actions and fate.
If the Agency has too close a relationship with the chemical companies it may not be able to take the vital decisions needed for the true protection of the environment but if those companies were more open in their approach to safety issues then it might be possible to progress with mutual benefit and so reduce the risk to the environment and to human and animal health.

The answer to Question 6 must be that liaison with the polluters must be done in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and co-operation but without formal “partnership” so as to maintain independence.
It should perhaps be remembered that the chemical industry must sell pollutants and potential environmental toxins in order to survive whereas the Environmental Agency exists to reduce the levels of those chemicals that are released into the environment. They cannot safely be mutually supportive.

The Agency cannot choose which chemicals to ignore as in question 7 by deciding which ones should be priorities. All are equally important, should be controlled at source, and then throughout their existence.
The best approach would be to tackle the biggest polluters first. Then it may well be seen that the environment can cope very well with the pollution from smaller units. A case in point.
Locally a farmer spread slurry on his land, much of it clay, every day during the winter months. Just a couple of loads of slurry, but every day, come rain or shine. The streams and ditches ran crystal clear.
Then a neighbour with a very large herd of cows decided to store farmyard manure in a massive heap near the first farmer’s land – and for months the water in the ditches resembled Guinness, complete with a “head”. People on the other side of the hill also had brown water flowing across their land and reported the problem to an environmental officer. Nothing was done. The neighbour purchased the small farmer’s farm and filled in all the ditches, destroying miles of wild primroses and cowslips in the process.
What was a balanced and pleasant environment was destroyed forever, for one man’s profit.

Every available communications tool should be employed in order to receive reports of incidents and breaches of regulation and to encourage the move towards a better, cleaner and more sustainable environment. It is vital that all information relied upon is accurate and that is a major difficulty now that commercial interests influence scientific results in almost every area of research.

It is interesting that Appendix 4 states that “The Agency is responsible for protecting the environment by controlling pollution. It has specific duties for protecting fish.” and I wonder what the policy is in respect to GM fish and the use of powerful chemicals in fish farming. It is my understanding that environmental damage is caused by these aspects but the practice is still promoted.
Similarly there is an obvious danger to fish in the Irish Sea and other areas of the UK near nuclear processing sites and yet despite international criticism the UK still promotes these activities.
Release of radioactive substances into the environment is not sustainable and yet it continues.

In Summary

If the Environment Agency is to be more effective in the future it must press for the regulations intended to protect the environment to be properly enforced, and for a reduction in the influence of individuals or companies with vested interests over vital committees and regulatory bodies.
The prevention of environmental pollution should begin at source and not be a “fire brigade” action of testing, clear up, and punishment for regulation breaches, after the pollution has occurred.
More importance should be given to the effects of repeated low-level exposures to cumulative nerve toxins and to such chemicals as the endocrine disruptors. It has been known for most of the last century that minute quantities of chemical mimics can cause serious disruption to hormone systems and as a result the theory that a poison spread thinly is no poison at all may actually be making the problem impossible to solve. Pesticides are a major problem, not least because the true nature of the formulations is unknown.
Soon there will be no area in the UK that does not have dangerous low-level contamination.
Independent research is essential to determine the true safety data of chemicals and mixtures of chemicals that are released into the environment and their potential to harm humans and that environment.
If radioactive substances cannot be contained without any release into the environment then the processing site should be closed until such time as the danger can be eliminated.
Hydrocarbons used in domestic and industrial processes must be prevented from entering the atmosphere and the water cycle via aerosols and drains. This would include personal hygiene products, washing and cleaning chemicals, solvents, paints and fuel or lubricating oils. Aircraft fuels are a particular concern since they represent one of the biggest and most widespread international pollution hazards.
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is a growing problem and seems to be linked to the presence of hydrocarbons in a very wide range of commercial products, which, like fuel oils and pesticides, contaminate the atmosphere and have become increasingly difficult to avoid.
Biological contamination with alien species of bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals, will I suspect become a major problem with the introduction of Genetic Engineering and the associated artificial life forms.
The chemicals associated with GM crops will also become a major environmental problem.

Given that The Environment Agency was formed to protect the environment it would seem that so far it has failed in its brief but as time goes on it will become increasingly obvious that failure is not an option.

Dated 25/09/02 - Uploaded to website on 04/03/2015

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