Some 100,000 chemical products are in use around the world today and new ones are continuously being developed for the market.. Some 30,000 chemical products that contain substances classified as hazardous are manufactured in Finland or imported for sale here. These products contain a total of more than 5,000 different substances classified as hazardous. Various economic activities have also increased the concentrations of harmful heavy metals in the environment.
Emissions of such potentially harmful chemicals are widely released into homes, workplaces, the urban environment and the natural environment, depending on the ways the products that contain them are used. Finland’s environmental administration monitors and assesses how seriously the natural environment is burdened by chemicals and heavy metals.
Continuing uncertainty about environmental loads
Relatively little is known about the environmental loads of chemicals in Finland, except for the so-called classic environmental toxins (DDT, dioxins and furans, PCBs) and heavy metals. Numerous, new ‘substances of concern’ are being released into the environment from household products. In many cases, little is known about the composition of these products; the only way of assessing their emissions is to measure concentrations at wastewater treatment plants. Municipal wastewater treatment plants only measure variables related to eutrophication in treated wastewater and sludge, alongside concentrations of heavy metals in sludge. However, ample amounts of different chemicals are discharged into the municipal sewerage system, for instance by private households and by SMEs discharging wastewaters into public sewers.
When based on measured concentrations only, load data exists for very few substances. Even for these, account is taken of only major sources of point load, such as industrial facilities.
However, even concerning these establishments, the chemicals contained in each plant’s emissions are usually unknown. Due to low concentrations, some substance loads are not even measured.
Point and diffuse loads are currently assessed for most chemicals through calculations. Data on concentrations measured in the environment is therefore required in support.
Monitoring of hazardous substances must become wider
EU legislation and Finland’s other international commitments mean that in future environmental loads of hazardous substances must be monitored much more widely than they have been so far. Of the chemicals so far analysed in the form of surveys only, many surface treatment and fire retardant substances, organotin compounds and agricultural plant protection products will fall subject to monitoring. Following this, pharmaceuticals are likely to join the substances deemed to require monitoring.
Radioactive substances are monitored in Finland by STUK – the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland.
Chemicals product control
Chemicals Product Control is centralized in the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes). It is tasked with the supervision and promotion of chemicals safety and the safety and quality of plant protection products. These duties are laid down in chemicals, environmental production and plant protection product legislation and are mostly based on EU chemicals legislation. Tukes is also responsible for the authorisation of plant protection products and biocides in Finland.