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Many disasters, few solutions: chemical contamination needs ‘Paris-like agreement’

Date: 13 September 2017
Category: News, Press releases,2017

The head of a global forum has called for a Paris-like international agreement to combat chemical contamination, which he says has five times the impact of climate change.

Professor Ravi Naidu, Managing Director of the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE), told the CleanUp 2017 global forum this week that a clean Earth is humanity’s next great challenge.

‘We need an accord like the Paris climate change agreement, but for chemical contaminants,’ Professor Naidu said.

‘These cause premature deaths through air pollution, they cause brain development conditions through chemicals such as lead and arsenic – even our first mouthful of mother’s milk contains toxins, pesticides and industrial chemicals.’

Professor Naidu said that in Australia there are more than 160,000 potentially contaminated sites, mostly in urban areas, and it costs more than $3 billion a year to manage their remediation.

‘Globally, less than 10 per cent of contaminated sites have been cleaned up. In future, it will cost more than a trillion dollars to clean up the environment in the United States alone.’

He said that 1 in 12 human deaths are linked to chemical exposure, with air pollution linked to 7 million deaths and another 5 million deaths linked to chemical exposure around the world. This compares with just over 2 million deaths from cancer, 1 million from diabetes, and 1 million from HIV/AIDS.

‘Earth is now affected by more than 144,000 synthetic chemicals. We are the cause of this problem. In terms of significance, I estimate that chemical contamination is five times as large as our climate change impact.’

Professor Naidu said that chemical contamination is the most underrated, under-investigated and poorly understood of all the risks facing humans in the 21st century.

‘There is overwhelming evidence that the global contamination problem has reached a critical point. Regulation of chemicals, new clean-up-the-Earth technologies, finance, research, and global cooperation are all needed to tackle the problem.’

CRC CARE, which does scientific research to help prevent, manage or clean up contamination of our soil, water and air, hosted CleanUp 2017 – the 7th International Contaminated Site Remediation Conference – in Melbourne from 10 to 13 September.

Download a PDF of this media release.

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