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Innovative, systemic zero-pollution solutions to protect health, environment and natural resources from persistent and mobile chemicals, ID: LC-GD-8-1-2020
bis 01.01.2022
A recent Eurobarometer survey (2020) showed that a large majority of respondents are worried about the impact on their health of chemicals present in everyday products. There is also solid scientific evidence substantiating health and environmental concerns related to chemicals. The European Green Deal includes a commitment to a zero-pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment. In this context, it specifically mentions the need to rapidly address the risks posed by hazardous chemicals and, more specifically, very persistent chemicals.

Pollution from persistent and mobile chemicals is often a systemic problem, as it is driven by factors closely related to the prevailing ways of production and consumption and is reinforced by missing appropriate technical solutions, including (bio)remediation and monitoring techniques for the environment (including the marine environment). These chemicals also pose challenges for regulatory authorities to develop or enforce effective policies.

An example of these very persistent chemicals is per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of thousands of manmade chemicals that are widely used in various consumer and industrial products (e.g. water- and stain repellent textiles, fire-fighting foams, plastics, food contact materials and cosmetics) and to which citizens and the environment are exposed. They are an increasing concern as they are persistent in the environment, very mobile, toxic and can bioaccumulate. For these reasons, they are found everywhere in the environment and their concentration increases over time, creating additional risks for human health and ecosystems. There are examples of contamination by PFAS of water and soil in most EU countries, which are costly or in some cases impossible to remediate. The overall costs to society from PFAS alone as an example are estimated by one source to be ¤ 52-84bn across Europe (Nordic Council of Ministers, 2019), which is likely to be an underestimate, as it includes only a limited range of health effects (high cholesterol, impaired immune system, and cancer). Some studies have shown negative effects of PFAS on the immune system, including a reduced response to vaccines. Similar effects are known also in connection to other kinds of persistent chemicals. This is of concern considering the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Taking into account latest policy needs and developments, this call topic aims at establishing new knowledge, exploring the feasibility of new or improved technologies and demonstrating innovative solutions to protect health, environment and natural resources from persistent and mobile chemicals. Selected projects are expected to advance our knowledge on health impacts and environmental effects and to address and preferably prevent a specific pollution problem involving contamination of environmental resources (such as soil, sediments, air, food and drinking water). The solutions developed should lead to cost-effective prevention, monitoring and to, as a last resort, mitigation or elimination of the issues (e.g. mitigation or remediation efforts in particularly affected geographic areas). They should also lead to better understanding of environmental fate and help proactively prevent negative impacts from persistent and mobile chemicals (and, where relevant, their precursors) on humans and the environment. The projects may include appropriate technologies, business, governance and social innovation aspects and the demonstration of innovative solutions in a relevant environment (TRL 4-6). In particular, projects may consider analytical methods and monitoring, enabling to quantify entire groups of persistent and mobile chemicals in food, soil or drinking water. This would allow achieving a higher level of consumer protection, as such grouping methods are essential for regulating groups of harmful substances that have similar structures.

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