Chemicals NGO forms as climate takes centre stage

WWF has reformed its chemicals campaigners into CHEM Trust, a separate group that will focus on the impacts of man-made substances on human health and wildlife. The move will allow WWF to concentrate on climate change, reflecting the dominance of this issue in the environmental debate.

WWF has been one of the most active NGOs working on chemicals and their regulation for more than a decade. It has notched up many successes including campaigns highlighting the threats posed by endocrine disruptors and the presence of flame retardants and other contaminants in blood and breast milk (ENDS Reports 336, pp 20-23   and 374, pp 26-29  ).

However, the finalisation of the EU’s REACH chemicals regime marks the end of an era. WWF now wants to focus on climate and resources with its "one planet living" agenda (ENDS Report 387, p 8 ).

Some NGOs have criticised the main political parties for focusing on climate change at the expense of the wider environment (ENDS Report 386, p 5 ), but it seems the same complaint could be laid at their own doors.

Chemicals is one of the areas which has fewest cross-overs with climate and benefits least from its high profile. WWF is certainly not alone in dropping its chemicals campaigning - a relatively technical topic that can be difficult to explain to the public.

WWF’s solution has been to establish the Chemicals, Health and Environment Monitoring Trust - or CHEM Trust - staffed by two former employees, Elizabeth Salter Green and Gwynne Lyons. WWF will provide funding for two years and Greenpeace, which has also reduced its chemicals campaign, has also contributed.

Ms Lyons said she is happy with the decision: "I’m delighted to be able to carry on working in an area that’s absolutely fascinating. There are some major breakthroughs coming in the science which should rock the foundations of how we regulate chemicals. The thought that there’s not another asbestos out there is naive."

She acknowledged the threat posed by climate change but pointed out it will exacerbate rather than replace other environmental problems. Fish populations already weakened by hormone-disrupting substances, for example, will be at greater risk from climate change. "We need to realise it’s these multiple stresses on the environment that are going to be most important," she said.

CHEM Trust’s mission statement is "to prevent man-made chemicals from causing long-term damage to wildlife or humans by ensuring that chemicals which cause such harm are substituted with safer alternatives."

Specific aims include:

  • Bridging the gap between scientists and policy-makers to ensure potential threats are acted upon.
  • Informing medical and patient groups about research linking chemical exposure to particular diseases. CHEM Trust plans to collect research paper abstracts and compile reports on topics such as diabetes, breast cancer and male reproductive problems.
  • Ensuring REACH is implemented effectively and lobbying for tighter regulation of hormone-disrupting substances ahead of a review of their authorisation conditions in six years’ time (ENDS Report 383, p 45 ).
  • Building links with other NGOs, such as the European Public Health Alliance, to create a coordinated approach within the EU.
  • CHEM Trust is a registered charity with three trustees: environmental lawyer Martyn Day, former WWF finance director Leslie Jones, and former director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy and former board member of the Environment Agency Nigel Haigh.

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