Swimming in chemicals

Feature story - 3 November, 2005
The European eel - not an everyday topic of conversation. But our investigations have revealed that the humble eel is contaminated with toxic chemicals. Adding insult to injury, the eel is already vanishing from lakes and rivers across Europe, and some of these toxic chemicals look as if they might last longer than the species itself.

The European Eel. Stocks in Europe have crashed due to a combination of overfishing, habitat loss and toxic pollution.

How do toxic chemicals with complicated names like brominated flameretardants (BFRs) that are added to many textiles, sofas, plastics,TV's and computers end up in eels? Politicians tell us that chemicalsare under control, but tell that to an eel who is swimming inchemicals. Toxic chemicals are out of control.

Is this contamination a problem for eels? No one knows for sure but theevidence is mounting that BFRs and other toxics have the potential todamage development and hormone systems in humans and wildlife.Certainly for an eel already under pressure, it's an extra dose of bad news.Some scientists are concerned that these toxins could harm the eel'sability reproduce or its young to survive.

With populations in some European waters as low as 1 percent ofhistoric levels, the eel clearly doesn't need a toxic burden. For thatmatter neither do we. BFRs can also contaminate our own blood,including umbilical cord blood, exposing an unborn baby to manmadehazardous chemicals while still in the womb.

Chemical contamination? No Thanks!

We need your help to counter dirty industry lobbying against laws to protect you from toxic pollution. Take a stand by uploading your picture at the vote for safer chemicals site.

In Europe a new law (called REACH) is being drafted that attempts toprotect human health and the environment from the toxic contamination.REACH would provide health and safety information currently lacking forsome 30,000 chemicals. A strong REACH would drive the replacement orsubstitution of toxic chemicals with safer alternatives.

But while eels might be slippery and tricky to control they havenothing on the worst excesses of the chemical industry. The vitalproposed law has inspired the biggest industrial lobbyingassault ever seen in Europe. The chemical industry is seeking to weakenit to the benefit of industry and loss of protection for you and me.Chemical industry associations from Europe, US and Asia have sentarmies of lobbyists to Brussels, spreading baseless scare stories andemploying delay tactics with any politician would listen.

"Don't worry - we'll just test a few"

Some EU politicians and governments are now pushing the industry line,wrongly claiming the law will cost jobs and must be "streamlined," mademore "cost effective" and "workable." These are industry weasel wordsfor the seriously weakening the law to everyone else. They proposeallowing industry to continue using 20,000 chemicals without basichealth, safety and environmental data information - that's 2/3 of thechemicals originally under the law!

Obviously the chemical industry and certain politicians prefer toignore past experiences with toxic chemicals. Here again the eel cangive them a little lesson - in history. Many eels tested had highlevels of highly toxic PCB's - despite the fact they have been bannedsince the 1970's in Europe. Past mistakes in chemical regulationare not quickly resolved.

Protecting people or pandering to profit?

The politicians of the European Union have a unique opportunity toeffective regulate chemical pollution and set a strong worldwideprecedent to protect human health and the environment. Will they standup for the people who elected them or will they cave to in to vestedinterests of the non-elected chemical industry?

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