We are in a time of converging currents: new scientific knowledge about the impact of synthetic chemicals on human health and development; disquieting health trends where rates of chronic diseases and disabilities seem to be increasing; sobering recognition that the regulation and management of hazardous chemicals has failed to adequately protect both occupational and public health; rising public distrust in industry behavior and safety legislation.
In terms of health trends, there are indications of increases in chronic diseases and disabilities, some of which cannot be easily explained by the previously established, recognised risk factors. Chemicals, some of which have now been banned (PCBs and DDT, for example), are being associated with human health effects across a range of conditions:
Neurological deficits and diseases;
Certain types of cancer (i.e. non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma; childhood and occupational cancers);
Immune system weakening;
Metabolic disorders; and
Occupation-related asthmas, etc.
The levels of so-called ‘non-communicable’ diseases in Europe are being termed ‘epidemic’ which pose an unsustainable burden on the healthcare system . In the wider European region (as defined by the World Health Organisation), ‘non-communicable diseases’ account for 86% of the deaths, and 77% of the disease burden. In Denmark, for example, 70% of health care expenses are estimated to derive from chronic conditions; and in the United Kingdom, involve 8 of the top 11 hospital admissions . The disease burden moreover rests disproportionately on the poor and the vulnerable, in Europe as elsewhere. Aside from the direct and indirect economic costs, the suffering for Europeans is immense.
At the same time, a certain momentum is gathering in new scientific knowledge about the ability of chemicals to have effects at extremely low doses that may manifest later in life (fetal origins of adult disease), and about the extreme sensitivity during prenatal and early development to chemical exposures which can alter gene expression.
Insofar as any portion of these non communicable diseases are linked to preventable chemicals exposures, the imperative of effective public health policy requires that we carefully explore the links, and create socially equitable prevention and remediation strategies.
 Non communicable diseases are a group which partially overlap with the diseases associated with chemicals named in the above paragraph. This group of conditions includes cardiovascular diseases, cancer, mental health problems, diabetes mellitus, chronic respiratory disease and musculoskeletal conditions.
 WHO (2006): Press Release EURO/05/06; Copenhagen, 11 September 2006; Largely preventable chronic diseases cause 86% of deaths in Europe: 53 WHO European Member States map a strategy to curb the epidemic Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/mediacentre....