Pollution, Power and Protecting the Planet: The urgent need to act on scientific evidence to prevent chemical pollution

Catherine Gunby, Executive Director at Fidra and with over 20 years’ experience tackling global issues, calls for evidence-based policy making and a swift response from regulators in tackling chemical pollution.

Scientists across the globe are calling for urgent action to tackle chemical pollution. We must learn lessons from the climate crisis to make sure regulators heed the evidence and prevent corporate lobbyists delaying government action on harmful chemicals.

Regulators under pressure from intense corporate lobbying

Regulators who are set to act on evidence and recommendations of scientists in the EU are reportedly in danger of bowing to the pressure of industry lobbyists when it comes to protecting citizens and the environment from chemical pollution (1, 2). According to Corporate Observatory Europe analysis of LobbyFacts data, there are 7 big lobbies in Europe delaying regulatory action on chemicals (Bayer, ExxonMobil Petroleum & Chemical, Dow Europe, BASF and 3 trade associations, CEFIC, Verband der Chemischen Industrie and Plastics Europe). These 7 companies and trade associations declared spending of €33.5 million in the most recent year on lobbying the EU institutions. This is more than either Big Tech or Big Energy players.  Of the 50 highest spending lobbyists, 21 are actively promoting a corporate-friendly agenda on chemicals policy including the 7 listed above (3).

What can the climate emergency tell us?

Ignoring scientific evidence results in serious consequences.  We have seen this with the climate emergency as the estimated cost on lives, livelihoods and the environment are being felt across the globe, fuelling food and wider economic insecurity, mass migration, extreme weather and global heating, and an alarming loss in biodiversity.  It is now widely accepted that oil giants used their wealth and influence to debunk growing scientific evidence of climate change and the fact that this was being caused by rising C02 emissions and fossil fuel extraction.  It appears efforts are still underway to stall or slow down progress on decarbonisation despite the urgency of action now being irrefutable.

Chemical pollution requires urgent action

Chemical pollution has transcended global boundaries (4). This means the cocktail of chemical pollution on the planet threatens the stability of global ecosystems on which humanity depends. Most industrial chemicals are fossil fuel derived and the petrochemical and energy industry are inextricably linked: like the climate crisis, action on chemical pollution is not optional.  National, regional, and international action is necessary to avert and reverse the chemical pollution burden.   When echoes of lobbyists funded by the petrochemical industry influencing sound evidence-based decision-making arise, there is a chilling feeling of déjà vu.

Anticipating the impact of chemicals

It is important to apply the precautionary principle when considering the use and restriction of chemicals.  The safety of chemicals should be demonstrated before they are used.  Fidra’s Chemical Principles are designed to underpin robust chemical management systems at all levels.

Evidence based decision making is essential

Assessing long-term risks, analysing the broader economic, health and environmental risks of inaction on chemical regulation is important. By sticking to our Chemical Principles we can avert further harms and build safe sustainable businesses that benefit society. We urge policy makers to independently assess the scientific evidence and for regulators to stand firm on the need to protect citizens and the environment from harm caused by chemical pollution.



1. The Guardian. (2023) EU to drop ban of hazardous chemicals after industry pressure. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jul/11/eu-to-drop-ban-of-hazardous-chemicals-after-industry-pressure (Accessed: 12th July 2023)

2. CHEM Trust. (2023) EU pledge for toxic-free products at risk, as shown by internal Commission documents. Available at: https://chemtrust.org/eu-toxic-pledge-risk/ (Accessed 12th July 2023)

3. Corporate Europe Observatory. (2023) Big Toxics and their lobby firepower. Available at: https://corporateeurope.org/en/big-toxics-firepower (Accessed 12th July 2023)

4. Persson, L., Carney Almroth, B.M., Collins, C.D., Cornell, S., De Wit, C.A., Diamond, M.L., Fantke, P., Hassellöv, M., MacLeod, M., Ryberg, M.W. and Søgaard Jørgensen, P. (2022) Outside the safe operating space of the planetary boundary for novel entities. Environmental science & technology, 56(3), pp.1510-1521.