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'The future of chemicals and the environment': Academic builds platform for discussion


Brunel University London’s expert in Environmental Science, Prof John Sumpter, has published a cautionary paper in the prestigious and competitive journal Science, analysing the effect of chemicals on the environment and wildlife.  

The review paper calls us to learn from past hazards and risks associated with releasing chemicals into the environment and consider the future effects of next-generation synthetic chemicals on our planet. 

Prof Sumpter and his co-authors give examples of chemicals which serve an important purpose but have had unexpected negative consequences on the environment, such as medicines, flame retardants and pesticides. For example, neonicotinoids (agricultural insecticides) were at first thought to be safe but are now known to cause a decline in wild bees. The authors claim new insecticides should be much safer than older ones, but we must be prepped for unexpected consequences. 

The paper also outlines that metals dominate the top 10 of the 71 chemicals of concern studied in the UK. Metals such as copper, aluminium, zinc and iron are most likely to be found in British rivers. 

This is not the first time Prof Sumpter's research has been featured in Science Magazine and continues to build a platform for discussing sustainability in environmental science. As a distinguished professor of Brunel, Prof Sumpter leads a research group focussed on chemicals in the aquatic environment, and their effects on animals. He is also an Advisor to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on chemicals policy and uses his research to help influence future approaches to chemical science. 

“We now recognise that the very properties that can make these chemicals work effectively can simultaneously be deleterious for the wider environment. Obtaining the resources to address issues associated with chemicals in the environment remains a challenge,” said Prof Sumpter. 

“Research institutions and government need to be active in establishing whether the non-lethal effects associated with some modern chemicals and substances will have serious consequences for wildlife in the future.” 

The research comes at a time when environmental sustainability and the climate crisis are at the forefront of the news. The exposure of this research in Science, to its wide readership, will help to generate further public and policy discussion around the topic. 

The full study can be found in the 'Special issue: Chemistry for Tomorrow's Earth’ in Science. 

If you would like a copy of the article, please contact Prof Sumpter directly (e-mail: john.sumpter@brunel.ac.uk). He will also attempt to answer any questions you may have. 

Reported by:

Simone McNichols-Thomas, Media Relations
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