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Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution > News Releases, Consultation Responses and Statements > 20 October 2000  

Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution

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20 October 2000


The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution today announced that it is going to investigate the long-term effects of chemicals in the environment and how those should be controlled. The study will start in the middle of next year, in order to produce a report in 2002.

The developments in the chemical industry during the last 100 years have brought spectacular benefits to mankind. On the other hand, the manufacture and use of chemicals can create risks to humans and the natural environment, many of which are poorly characterised. There is a long history of serious environmental concerns associated with chemicals that were originally thought to be purely beneficial: for example DDT, PCBs, and now a wide range of suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Despite a large, and rapidly growing, national and international effort to assess the effects of chemicals in the environment, major doubts persist on the effectiveness of present policies in protecting the health of both humans and ecosystems from unintended long-term effects. The UK government's recent chemicals strategy and the forthcoming EU review of policy are reflections of this concern.

The Commission has identified as the three major themes:
   Scientific knowledge and further research needs;
   How chemicals are best assessed;
   The principles that should be followed in regulating chemicals.

The Commission is seeking views now about the key issues on which it should concentrate. Suggested issues include: the extent to which concerns are justified; how much data is needed for decisions on the safety of a substance; how to operate the Precautionary Principle; how to incorporate people's values in the process; the roles of governmental organisations, producers and users of chemicals; and the most effective ways of addressing problems.

The new study should prove timely. Nationally, it will provide an input to the work of the new Chemicals Stakeholder Forum, and will be able to review the impact and effectiveness of the government's chemicals strategy. Internationally, it comes at a time when there is growing debate on the effectiveness of chemical assessment and control programmes.

The Commission has written to a wide range of bodies inviting their views on the issues. The text of the letter is available on the Commission's web site at:


The Commission also welcomes views from anyone else who wishes to contribute. It will be setting up a discussion forum on its website within the next month, allowing contributors to respond directly to the Commission's issues or to comments made by other participants.


The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is an independent standing body. Its terms of reference are to advise on matters, both national and international, concerning the pollution of the environment; the adequacy of research in this field; and the future possibilities of danger to the environment. The Chairman is Sir Tom Blundell FRS. Members of the Commission are appointed by Her Majesty The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister and serve part time.

The long-term effects of chemicals in the environment was selected as a subject for study after consultations with a wide variety of organisations. The study announced today will draw, where appropriate, on conclusions reached in previous reports by the Commission, especially its 21st Report, Setting Environmental Standards (1998).

When the study starts next year, the Commission will invite written evidence on the more specific issues it intends to identify with the help of responses to this announcement.

The contact for all enquiries about this announcement, or about the new study, is:

John Rea, Assistant Secretary to the Commission, RCEP, 11 Tothill St, London SW1H 9RE, tel. 020 7273 6642, e-mail john.rea@rcep.org.uk

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