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4.1 Introduction

A range of legislation exists to protect water from chemical pollution (section 1.3). At EU level, the legislation both:

protects against pollution in one country being transferred downstream to another; and
ensures that similar, minimum standards apply in Member States, avoiding unfair competition where weak standards give advantage to polluters compared to others meeting more stringent standards.

The EU’s 7th Environment Action Programme (EU, 2013a) mandated the European Commission to develop "a Union strategy for a non-toxic environment that is conducive to innovation and the development of sustainable substitutes including non-chemical solutions."

Alongside this, the EU action plan for a circular economy contains measures covering the whole product cycle: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials (COM, 2015). Seen in this light, harmful chemicals used in products can present a barrier for materials to be recycled. Finding new ways to deliver the desired benefit represents opportunity for innovation (box 4.1).

Radically rethinking our existing approach to chemicals has followed. From an environmental perspective, given the thousands of chemicals in daily use, it is not sustainable to regulate a chemical, then measure it in the environment and assess whether it is causing harm. However, managing the current situation into the next few decades requires dealing with chemicals already in use (Box 4.2). The following sections describe some EU and national approaches to limiting the harm presented by chemical pollution.

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