Scientists warn Australia of 'catastrophic risk to humanity’

·Assistant News Editor
·3-min read

A group of eminent scientists has urged Australian leaders to tackle an often overlooked problem which they say carries "potential catastrophic risk to humanity".

In a new report, researchers argued the growing presence of chemical pollution represents risk on a scale equivalent to climate change.

Chemical pollution is having a deleterious affect on male fertility, cognitive health and food security, scientists said. 

The report was published in the journal Environment International as its authors warned that while "benefits of synthetic chemicals to everyday life are undeniable" they do pose serious contamination risks. 

That risk has "accelerated markedly in the last half-century," researchers wrote.

Chemical pollution has reached unprecedented levels in parts of the planet
Chemical pollution has reached unprecedented levels in parts of the planet, researchers warn. Source: Supplied

"Trillions of tonnes of chemically active material are discharged into the environment by mining, mineral processing, farming, construction and energy production."

Nanoparticles and chemicals found in personal care products and home cleaning products were also singled out, with researchers saying it would "take over 100,000 years to evaluate all existing synthetic chemicals for human and environmental safety, and an additional 2,000 years to evaluate each year’s new products." 

Laureate Professor Ravi Naidu from and the University of Newcastle, and lead author of the report, said federal and state governments in Australia and around the world should seize on the economic and employment opportunities that stem from addressing the issue of growing chemical pollution. 

"Pollution now kills nine million people a year," he said in a statement. 

"This is by far the worst case of preventable death and injury in human history. Action is overdue in every country on Earth, not least Australia."

Rapidly developing nations like China and India have vowed to tackle the pollution crisis, with Chinese president Xi Jinping allocating billions to clean up land, water and air pollution in the country while India also seeks to address air pollution problems and clean up its toxic cities. 

Prof Naidu says Australia's already $3 billion clean-up industry could prosper in the global fight against chemical pollution with a focus on exporting our skills and technologies, with a little help from governments.

"Clean-up is a vibrant, high-tech industry in its own right, which is on a strong growth trajectory worldwide. We need governments to help make it go faster," he said. 

Laureate Professor Ravi Naidu picutred.
Laureate Professor Ravi Naidu is calling for a global accord to tackle chemical pollution. Source: Supplied

Chemical emissions almost five times greater than climate emissions

According to Prof Naidu, human chemical emissions now total four or five times our climate emissions.

"Most people are concerned about climate change and many are making changes in their lives and work to curb it. This does not yet apply to chemical contamination, which is growing out of control around the world, including Australia."

While noting that Australia is leader in trying to build international support to tackle the issue, he is calling for governments to sign on to a Global Contamination Accord for leaders to pledge to reduce the impact of human-made chemicals on human health and the environment.

Chemical pollution from a variety of household, consumer, agricultural industrial products can be "associated with heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and a rising epidemic of brain damage and mental disability," Prof Naidu said.

It's a problem scientists have been sounding the alarm about in recent years. 

Last year, Prof Barbara Demeneix, a biologist and endocrinologist and author of Toxic Cocktail: How Chemical Pollution Is Poisoning Our Brains, warned the growth of environmental contaminants will affect future generations.

"Chemical pollution has now reached unprecedented levels, with every child born today 'pre-contaminated' with hundreds of chemicals," she wrote in the Financial Times.

Aside from climate change, she described growing chemical pollution and the loss of biodiversity as the "asteroid threats" facing the planet.

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