From Reactivity to Proactivity through a Global Science-Policy Panel for Chemicals and Toxic Waste


At our upcoming summit on Chemical Pollution and One Health, we will gather the expertise, insights and visions of all participants to discuss how we can more proactively address the issue of harmful chemicals and waste. In this interview, Senior Professor Åke Bergman från Örebro University and Stockholm University tells us a bit about the background to the topic and also about the workshop he is organizing to support the establishment of a inter-governmental science-policy panel that will help decision-makers take the right action.

Ake Bergman

Last year, the Lancet Planetary Health released the report, “Pollution and health: A progress update” which suggest that pollution is not a sufficiently prioritized area of concern for governments, and that we are in fact “going backwards”. What is the reason for this?

Indeed, the chemical pollution is major threat to the environment and humans. The huge numbers of chemicals used are often technical mixtures and may contain by-products from manufacturing, such as dioxins. Many of the chemicals are used where no discharges are supposed to occur, but still lead to environmental contamination. When occurring in the environment, contaminating air, water and food, extremely complex and variable mixtures are formed. The health effects of these mixtures become difficult to assess.

Furthermore, many of the chemicals have a long history with limited hazard and risk assessments done. In addition, the resources are so limited in academia that unbiased research cannot make up for the lack of information. Also and unfortunately, there is a tendency that researchers focus on pollutants of societal interest, where more funding is available at the time, and/or find some chemicals of particular interest because of their characteristics. We have several pollutants that have become important models in e.g. cancer research. Since our knowledge base is expanding we know more and more regarding chemical toxicities and their potential impact on health. Taken together this may be perceived as “going backwards” which is not true. Our knowledge is improving but time before hazardous chemicals are regulated is far too long. The fights with chemical producer interests are indeed hampering actions towards a sustainable future.

How can the workshop Towards and intergovernmental panel on pollution and toxic waste contribute?

 This workshop is a chance for us to discuss the need for an intergovernmental panel on chemicals and pollution, and not only the need but rather how this can develop into a body similar to IPCC and IPBES. The creation of what is presently known as the Science-Policy Panel (SPP) is a huge step forward. I hope this workshop will create media interest and lead to news reports from the summit. The workshop includes numerous influential knowledgeable participants. The plan is also to communicate with the UN decision making body to present the outcome of the workshop.

What are your expectations of the summit?

Taken together, the plenary sessions and the nine workshops, the UHS 2023 will address many of the burning issues related to chemical pollution and health. My expectations are very high and I am looking forward to meet and discuss how we can move away from reaction to new observations and reports and to actually become proactive.

In a Swedish perspective I hope the summit will alert the present government on dignity of the chemical pollution issue and to better understand the triple crises (biodiversity threats, chemical pollution and climate change).

Ake Bergman
Post retirement professor Åke Bergman is Senior Advisor for Platform for Sustainable Future at Örebro University (PSF@ORU), Professor Emeritus at Stockholm University, Department of Environmental Science and Advisory professor at Tongji University, College of Environmental Science and Engineering, Shanghai, China. His professional work is in environmental chemistry focussed on pollutants environmental behaviour, their metabolism and effects particularly related to endocrine disrupting effects. He has been engaged as an expert in numerous national, EU, UNEP and WHO groups/committees.