What is it about?

Persson et al. argue that we are outside the safe operating space of the planetary boundary for novel entities, since the annual production and releases of chemicals including plastics are increasing at a pace that outstrips the global capacity for assessment and monitoring. But they do not show where the boundary for novel entities is, and that it has been crossed. Instead, their argument is based upon the cautionary principle, arguing that the current growth has not been proved to be within the safe operating space. Only a fraction of the chemicals currently in use has been assessed for risk or safety. This is, however, not a planetary boundary, but a societal boundary. A measure of the ability or inability of chemical screening to keep at pace with the introduction of new chemicals and their mixtures.

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Why is it important?

The long delay and the manifold amount of human-created novel entities compared to the 1930s, raises the question of how many novel entities we have nowadays in production that will, in 50 years, be considered to threaten some vital planetary boundary? The novel entities, as such without a defined boundary value is a vital reminder of this problem.


To disperse this fog of uncertainty, described by the societal boundary, we need a moratorium on taking new chemicals or their mixture into use until this backlog of chemicals available on the market without assessment of risk or safety has been cleared. The minimum requirement should be that the annual assessment should be significantly higher than the introduction of new substances.

Dr Jan Kunnas
University of Eastern Finland

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Comment on “Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities”, Environmental Science & Technology, April 2022, American Chemical Society (ACS), DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.2c00524.
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