Hazardous chemicals

Published by the Norwegian Environment Agency

We are using more and more chemicals in a wider variety of products. Some of them may have serious impacts on health and the environment.

Chemicals include substances and preparations (mixtures or solutions containing two or more substances). Hazardous chemicals are considered to be hazardous to health or the environment or represent a fire or explosion hazard. Photo: istockphoto

Small children will suck on or chew almost anything. Plastic and rubber toys may contain phthalates, which can be hazardous to health. Photo: Gerry Thomasen, Flickr

Mosses readily absorb pollutants from the atmosphere, and are therefore useful indicators of the amounts of heavy metals deposited in Norway. Many hazardous substances are carried northwards with winds and ocean currents. Photo: Frank Tasche, Flickr

A great deal has been done to reduce the use and releases of hazardous substances on the Norwegian priority list. Siloxanes are a group of chemicals whose use seems to be increasing, and they have been detected in trout and other fish caught in Norway's largest lake, Mjøsa. Photo: Kim Abel, Naturarkivet.no

Pollution from industry and landfills that reaches soil and sediments can cause long-lasting problems. Norway has been organising clean-up operations at polluted sites for many years. The photo shows sediment samples from Trondheim harbour. Photo: Trondheim Havn, Flickr

A modern lifestyle requires chemicals

Industrial releases of chemicals have been reduced in the past 20–30 years, while everyday products have become an increasingly important source of pollution. Examples are spray-on waterproofing, hair conditioner and mobile telephones.

Many hazardous substances have been forbidden in Norway and many other countries. As a result, researchers often find lower levels of these chemicals in fish and shellfish than they did 20–30 years ago.

However, new hazardous substances, including organic pollutants such as brominated flame retardants and perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), are being detected in the Norwegian environment. Some of this pollution is of local origin, but a substantial proportion is transported from other countries with winds and ocean currents.

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Hazardous substances have serious impacts

We can be exposed to hazardous substances when we use products containing them, and through the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.

The hazardous substances we are most concerned about are toxic (they may for example affect the immune system or be carcinogenic), persistent  and liable to bioaccumulate. They can have serious impacts on both people and the environment.

Both national and international efforts needed

The Norwegian authorities are seeking to minimise or eliminate the use of substances that are known to be particularly dangerous. Hazardous substances should be replaced with less hazardous ones wherever possible.

Because many chemicals spread across national borders with winds and ocean currents, international cooperation is essential. Norway works closely with the EU on chemicals, and generally applies the same legislation.