Theater of Cruelty

New pollutant policy now!

What do breast milk and gulls, ministers and cell phones have in common? All contain dangerous chemicals.


[environmental toxins] Bad news about toxins is coming more and more frequently. We all go around with a double digit number of industrial chemicals in the body. Researchers warn of potential harm effects, such as ADHD

similar symptoms, infertility and cancer. Around 600.000 Norwegians have an intake of environmental toxins that are higher than the limit values ​​from the EU and the World Health Organization (WHO). Products such as computer equipment, TVs, all-weather jackets and toothpaste can contain environmental toxins that are difficult or impossible to break down. The substances accumulate in humans and nature, especially in fish and sea animals. Farmed salmon is just one example. Both seagulls and polar bears can contain so much poison that they – according to laws and regulations – should have been collected and destroyed as hazardous waste. Killer whales from Tysfjord have recently been named the most polluted animals in the Arctic. There could be more examples.

Multinational companies.

Now Environment Minister Helen Bjørnøy has promised an offensive against environmental toxins. Good! Her major challenge is dealing with the famous content of toolbox.

We often hear that the polluter has to pay. When it comes to new environmental toxins, the exact opposite is true: the polluter does not pay, but sells pollution and rakes in. The vast majority of environmentally harmful chemicals are made completely legally by multinational companies, with production in many different countries, and with a global market. As long as the substances are made and used on a large scale, they will also be spread to countries and areas far from the place of production – both through trade in products, and through water and air flows. Unfortunately for Norway, many poisons tend to accumulate right here with us.

Break the taboos.

So what can a small country do?

The goal must be to help the major chemical producers stop making substances that accumulate in nature and cause damage. The method must be to develop a new policy for cleaner products, and make sure that this policy is adapted to an international reality. Here are some important assumptions:

First, the government must break an old taboo about not interfering with what kind of products the companies should make. There must be an end to the fact that companies can get away with most things, only they mumble something about company secrets and market shares. On the contrary, the secrets must be revealed and the market shares changed.

Secondly, Norway must take the consequence of the most important decisions being made abroad. The fight against environmental toxins must be an important part of Norwegian foreign policy, both in relation to the EU and the UN, and in bilateral relations between Norway and other countries. National measures should also, as far as possible, aim to have global relevance – by influencing demand, obtaining research results and developing policies that others can also benefit from.

Third, the Ministry of the Environment cannot carry out the pollutant policy alone. The government's power is often greater in other ministries' responsibilities, whether it is on public procurement criteria, the investment profile in the Oil Fund or targeted innovation and marketing of cleaner products.

Five requirements.

WWF-Norway and the Norwegian Nature Conservation Association have five priority requirements for the government's announced major investment in environmental toxins.

Use the Substitution Obligation: Under the Product Control Act, a company must replace hazardous chemicals with safer ones, unless it leads to unreasonable cost or inconvenience. But the paragraph is asleep. The authorities have never forced legal clarifications on what "unreasonable cost or inconvenience" means. Thus, any company can rely on any such reason to continue to use hazardous substances. Here, the authorities must bring producers to court if necessary.

Green innovation: Through, among other things, Innovation Norway, the authorities should help develop, improve and commercialize new products that can replace known problem products. Many product groups are particularly relevant to Norway, such as boat antifouling, aquaculture impregnating agents, pharmaceuticals and outdoor equipment. New, environmentally-friendly products can become commercial successes globally.

Green public consumption: The public sector is Norway's largest consumer, and has enormous market power. This power should be used to differentiate between different products. For example, both school students and nature can be protected from environmental toxins if schools require an ecolabelling standard to be met when purchasing new computer equipment.

Clean up the ports: Although the most important thing is prevention, the government must prioritize the clean-up of polluted sediments along the coast. Government funds should be frozen every year, for example in a fund, to secure funding for clean-up, even if the measures themselves go a bit tighter. This provides stability for the emergence of the clean-up industry, which can later become an export service.

We need a new institution: The government should establish a research and dissemination center for environmental poisoning issues. The center should be multidisciplinary, and disseminate research on the occurrence and effects of environmental toxins, as well as national and international phasing out strategies. A similar model has already been a success in another environmental area: CICERO's Center for Climate Research has made valuable contributions in the climate debate, both here in the country and internationally. A new environmental toxin center can be formed using the same model. Three thematic areas should be given special priority, due to extra-large knowledge needs: We must get far more and better research on «cocktail-

effects of pollutants »: Today we measure the effects of one and one substance, while in reality they always appear more together. Furthermore, we must pay close attention to the consequences of the EU's new chemicals directive, which will also apply to Norway, and which will have global effects on good and bad. Last but not least, the northern areas should receive special attention. A new pollutant center can be conveniently located in Northern Norway or in Svalbard.

Pollutant test.

The government has announced a separate report to the Storting on environmental toxins this autumn. It will not be judged on its intentions: There is not a single human being who is a supporter of environmental toxins in breast milk and gull eggs. On the other hand, ingenuity and the ability to work together are put to the test. The report will be a test of whether the government is able to create new and effective policies with far-reaching effects – across divisions between parties, industries and ministries. Only in this way can we hope to get the environmental toxins out of seafood and everyday products.

The Chronicle is written by:

Rasmus Hansson, Secretary General of WWF-Norway

Tore Killingland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Nature Conservation Association

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