Serious dangers of BPA recognised by leading chemical safety agency

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) – responsible for implementing chemical legislation in the EU – has officially recognised the endocrine-disrupting properties of bisphenol A, also known as BPA.

The update was made to the ECHA Candidate List of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC), which contains substances that may have serious effects on human health or the environment.

The list forms part of the EU Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH).

The update was made after a proposal from France and following consideration by the ECHA Member State Committee (MSC).

Endocrine disrupting chemicals

BPA is one of the most studied and well understood endocrine disrupting chemical (EDCs).

EDCs are natural or synthetic compounds that alter endocrine function within the body by mimicking or blocking hormones.

BPA is also one of the most common EDCs found in manufactured products and in the environment.

The convenient, industrialized world that we live in today has led to our essentially continuous exposure to these types of chemicals.

BPA is used in the manufacture of polycarbonate, as a hardener for epoxy resins, in polyvinylchloride (PVC) production and in thermal paper production.

Many studies have shown that EDCs cause significant harm to animals, with the most serious harm caused during fetal and early life exposure.

The sources and pathways of exposure are myriad, but industrial and agricultural run-off making its way into drinking water and direct leaching from food and beverage containers are the most common for humans.

Studies have shown that aquatic life exposed to BPA have increased female-to-male ratios, longer hatching times for young, reduced body weight and deformities.

recent review of the literature also highlighted that BPA affects immune cells and can exacerbate inflammatory conditions.

An important step

The ECHA has also added endocrine disruption to the hazardous properties of four other chemicals on the SVHC list.

All four of these chemicals belong to a group called phthalates, which are used in the manufacture of plastics to increase the flexibility, durability and longevity of the final product.

While BPA was originally included in the ECHA candidate list in January in recognition of its toxicity for reproduction, the latest update for BPA and phthalates is an important step towards phasing out the use of EDCs in Europe and will help limit future health and environmental impacts.

The inclusion of a substance in the Candidate List creates legal obligations to companies manufacturing, importing or using such substances.

Importantly, any product that contains an SVHC in concentrations more than 0.1 per cent by weight will be given the same level of concern as the substance itself.

SVHCs on the Candidate list may be included in an ‘Authorisation List’ and if so, such substances cannot be placed on the market or used unless an authorisation is granted for their specific use, or the use is exempted from authorisation.

Importers and producers of products containing SVHCs have six months from the date of its inclusion in the Candidate List to notify ECHA.

A version of this article appeared in the Green News on July 14th, 2017

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Ireland’s worst environmental offenders named and shamed by EPA

Ireland’s environmental watchdog has warned five industrial sites already under its radar for serious breaches of the environmental law to clean up their act or face further sanctions.

The five sites are Arrow Group Limited, Co Kildare; Rosderra Irish Meats Group, Co Offaly; T & J Standish Limited, Co Tipperary; Tipperary Co-operative Creamery Limited, Co Tipperary; and Irish Cement Limited, Co Limerick.

The sites are on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Priority Site (NPS) list, which is updated on a quarterly basis.

Although the sites only account for less than one per cent of EPA licensed sites across the country, they account for eight per cent of EPA site inspections completed so far this year. Three of the sites alone accounted for over half of all complaints received to-date in 2017.

Environmental performance is calculated based on the number of complaints, incidents and non-compliance issues over the past six months. The EPA believes that the NPS rating system will encourage compliance and will also provide targets for the EPA for further enforcement.

The EPA will “escalate enforcement action” against both companies and their directors if compliance does not improve, said the Director of Environmental Enforcement, Gerard O’Leary.

Mary Gurrie, Programme Manager in Mr O’Leary’s department added that it was “not acceptable” for licensed sites to cause nuisance or impact on the environment.  “These operators face further enforcement action,” she added.

Irish Cement Limited

Earlier this year, the EPA found the Irish Cement plant to be “in non-compliance” over dust emissions, and opened a formal probe into the firm after identifying a number of other issues at the plant on the edge of Limerick City.

Plans from Irish Cement to burn 90,000 tonnes of industrial waste and used tyres at its plant in Castlemungret, Mungret, Co Limerick was recently flagged in the Dáil by Willie O’Dea, TD. 

Irish Cement is one of four cement plants on the island of Ireland, three of which have moved from burning fossil fuel to burning industrial and toxic waste.

The Limerick Deputy outlined his concern at the plans as there are 25,000 currently living in the immediate vicinity of the plant, which he said has an “appalling safety record”.

“I am advised by people who know a lot more about this than I do, that the burning of toxic waste in a cement plant is infinitely more dangerous to the environment than a traditional incinerator.

“There is a wealth of scientific evidence that shows a very close connection between various forms of cancer and respiratory diseases and proximity to this type of operation.”

Planning permission for an extension to the facility was granted by Limerick City County Council in March, with an appeal currently before An Bord Pleanána. A decision from the planning authority is due in early August.

Environmental enforcement trends

€178,000 in fines and costs were paid out from 11 prosecutions last year, according to the EPA’s Industrial and Waste License Enforcement Report 2016. The report highlighted that the vast majority of environmental complaints against licensed facilities in 2016 related to odour nuisances.

In total, the environmental watchdog conducted over 1,500 inspections last year, most of which were to sites in the waste sector.

Enva Ireland in Laois, Knockharley Landfill in Meath, Ballynagran Landfill in Wicklow, Greyhound and Thorntons Recycling facilities in Dublin and a number of Oxigen Environmental sites accounted for the majority of inspections, 95 per cent of which were unannounced.

A total of 1,542 non-compliances were recorded for 325 licensed sites, with the Food and Drink sector being the least compliant sector.

New licenses granted in 2016 shows that there is an expansion of sites conducting Intensive Agriculture, particularly in Monaghan and Cavan, and further expansion of waste management across the country.

The full report is available on the EPA website.

A version of this article appeared in the Green News on July 12th, 2017.

All new Volvo cars to be electric or hybrid from 2019

Volvo will only produce fully electric or hybrid cars from 2019, making it the first mainstream car manufacturer to commit to a total phase out of cars solely powered by internal combustion engines.

This may well be a landmark moment and one of the clearest a signs yet that traditional petrol or diesel fueled cars may be a thing of the past sooner than many expected.

“This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car,” Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson announced yesterday in a live-streamed press conference.

The Sweden-based company, which is owned by the Chinese car manufacturer Geely Holding Group, plans to release five fully-electric vehicles (EVs) between 2019 and 2021, followed by a range of hybrid-powered cars equipped with petrol or diesel engines.

Volvo envisions that they will have 2 million of their new electrified vehicles on the road by 2025.

Car manufacturers scrambling to comply with EU 7 legislation

Mr Samuelsson said the move is a response to customer demands, although it also coincides with the introduction of EURO 7 legislation to set legally binding carbon emission targets by 2020.

The new legislation will limit CO2 emissions of new cars sold in the EU to 95 grams per kilometer. Emissions from the average EU car was 118 grams per kilometer last year.

In 2015, new diesel cars from Volvo and other manufacturers were found by Europe’s largest motoring organisation, Adac, to emit substantially higher levels of pollution than those revealed in existing EU tests. As revealed in the Guardian, Adac tested the cars using an alternative UN standard set to be introduced by the EU this year.

Other manufacturers, such as BMW, Volkswagen, Jaguar and Land Rover, have laid out ambitious plans to ramp up production of electric cars in order to comply with this legislation.

Renault leads the pack when it comes to sales of EVs in Europe for 2017, followed by Nissan, Peugeot, Kia and the much vaunted Tesla.

EV sales continue to break records, but ending subsidies could spell danger

The global sales of electric vehicles hit a record of 750,000 in 2016 and 2017 is set to far surpass that figure again, with projected sales of over 1 million vehicles. China is the largest manufacturer, accounting for 40 per cent of electric cars sold, with the EU coming in second.

However, the fragile nature of the EV market and its reliance on substantial government tax subsidies was recently highlighted in Denmark, where EV sales dropped 60 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2016.

This consumer U-turn came as the Danish government announced plans to phase out EV tax subsidies between 2016 and 2020. The government has since reversed this decision, however, consumer confusion still exists and it is affecting sales.

In Ireland, EV owners benefit from a €5,000 grant from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, up to €5,000 vehicle registration tax relief and 800 free charge points dotted around the country.

It is clear that EV technology is coming down the road but it is still unclear at exactly what speed and what obstacles lie in the way.

A version of this article appeared in the Green News on July 6th, 2017.

New project launched to study links between flooding and waterborne disease outbreaks

A new research project investigating the links between flooding events and the incidence of waterborne infectious disease outbreaks in Ireland was officially launched at UCD Earth Institute today.

The multidisciplinary project will involve social scientists, environmental scientists, engineers and public health researchers from UCD, University of Limerick, DIT and Trinity College.

Flood damage to infrastructure receives widespread media attention but the potential public health consequences for society from future increased flooding as a result of climate change has received little consideration.

A major public health concern, according to Dr Eoin O’Neill from UCD Earth Institute and principal investigator of the project, is that more intense or prolonged rainfall events can mobilise viral and bacterial pathogens from agricultural and domestic sources, transmit them to rivers and groundwater and increase the incidence of waterborne infectious diseases.

Previous research conducted by Dr. Jean O’Dwyer, a UL-based collaborator on the project, has already shown that increased rainfall in Ireland increases the likelihood of groundwater contamination with the familiar pathogen E. coli. 

The project aims to quantify the effects of intensive rainfall and flooding on the incidence and severity of pathogens and to identify the knowledge and awareness gaps of well owners and users in relation to drinking water sources and flood awareness and preparedness.

It is hoped that this project will help reduce the occurrence of illnesses caused by waterborne diseases, such as gastrointestinal illness.

The project will provide an evidence base to inform policy and practice and develop guidelines to inform public authorities when responding to extreme weather conditions.

According to Dr Paul Hynds – an epidemiologist based in DIT and a collaborator on the project: “This should be of particular interest to Irish policymakers including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Office of Public Works (OPW) as 800,000 Irish people rely on a private unregulated groundwater source (wells) for daily water consumption, in addition to many holidaymakers.”

The project is funded by the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Irish Research Council.

A version of this article appeared in the Green News on July 28th, 2017.