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Scientists and doctors raise global alarm over hormone-disrupting chemicals

Managing plant surplus carbon to generate soil organic matter in regenerative agriculture

Soil degradation is a global problem. A third of the planet’s land is already severely degraded, and soil is being degraded at a speed that threatens the health of the planet and the civilizations that depend on it (Whitmee et al. 2015). Depletion of soil organic carbon (SOC) resulting from extractive agriculture is a key driver of soil degradation (Lal et al. 2015). Much of this SOC has been released to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2), a potent greenhouse gas contributing to ongoing climate change, including extreme weather events. Soil degradation also diminishes water infiltration and retention, biodiversity, watershed functions, and the nutritional value of food. Reversing soil degradation is a top global priority (UNCCD 2017).

Yields of major crops have increased substantially in the last century, primarily through intensive chemical fertilization. However, the greater aboveground plant biomass production resulting from chemical fertilization has usually not led to proportional gains in plant inputs to soil and soil organic matter (SOM) accrual (Khan et al. 2007Man et al. 2021). Instead, these practices, in concert with other intensive agricultural practices such as intensive tillage, monoculture, application of pesticides, and bare fallows, have caused declines in SOM, increases in greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution of waterways (Loisel et al. 2019). However, adopting regenerative agricultural practices, such as substituting chemical with organic fertilizers like compost or manure, reducing tillage, intensifying and diversifying crop rotations, and cover cropping, often increase SOM (McClelland et al. 2021). The mechanisms underlying the positive effects of regenerative agricultural practices on SOM, however, are not well understood. Elucidating these mechanisms would advance our capacity to design agricultural strategies to reliably enhance agroecosystem SOM content, which would assist in reversing soil degradation and enhancing soil quality, food security, and climate change mitigation globally (Amelung et al. 2020).

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Outside the Safe Operating Space of a New Planetary Boundary for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)


It is hypothesized that environmental contamination by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) defines a separate planetary boundary and that this boundary has been exceeded. This hypothesis is tested by comparing the levels of four selected perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) (i.e., perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA)) in various global environmental media (i.e., rainwater, soils, and surface waters) with recently proposed guideline levels. On the basis of the four PFAAs considered, it is concluded that (1) levels of PFOA and PFOS in rainwater often greatly exceed US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Lifetime Drinking Water Health Advisory levels and the sum of the aforementioned four PFAAs (Σ4 PFAS) in rainwater is often above Danish drinking water limit values also based on Σ4 PFAS; (2) levels of PFOS in rainwater are often above Environmental Quality Standard for Inland European Union Surface Water; and (3) atmospheric deposition also leads to global soils being ubiquitously contaminated and to be often above proposed Dutch guideline values. It is, therefore, concluded that the global spread of these four PFAAs in the atmosphere has led to the planetary boundary for chemical pollution being exceeded. Levels of PFAAs in atmospheric deposition are especially poorly reversible because of the high persistence of PFAAs and their ability to continuously cycle in the hydrosphere, including on sea spray aerosols emitted from the oceans. Because of the poor reversibility of environmental exposure to PFAS and their associated effects, it is vitally important that PFAS uses and emissions are rapidly restricted.


A planetary boundary has been exceeded due to PFAS levels in environmental media being ubiquitously above guideline levels.

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Chemical pollution exceeds safe planetary limit: researcher Q+A on consequences for life on Earth

The production and release of plastics, pesticides, industrial compounds, antibiotics and other pollutants is now happening so fast and on such a large scale that it has exceeded the planetary boundary for chemical pollution, the safe limit for humanity, a new study claims.

We asked Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, a PhD candidate at Stockholm University and one of the authors of the study, to explain what this means.

What are planetary boundaries?

In 2009, an international team of researchers identified nine planetary boundaries that maintain the remarkably stable state Earth has remained within for 10,000 years – since the dawn of civilisation.

These boundaries include greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, the ozone layer, an intact biosphere and freshwater. The researchers quantified the boundaries that influence Earth’s stability and concluded in 2015 that human activity has breached four of them. Greenhouse gas emissions are pushing the global climate into a new, hotter state, species extinctions threaten the biosphere’s integrity, the conversion of forests to farmland has degraded the quality of land and industrial and agricultural processes have radically altered natural cycles of phosphorus and nitrogen.

The researchers lacked the data to quantify the boundary for chemical pollution, otherwise known as novel entities (essentially, any substances made by humans plus natural elements like heavy metals which human activity mobilises or transports at high volumes), until now. Our research suggests we have crossed this boundary and beyond the known safe operating space for humanity.

A diagram depicting how much humanity has transgressed planetary boundaries.
In uncharted territory: humanity is transgressing boundaries which maintain a stable planetary state. Stockholm Resilience CentreAuthor provided

How did you discover this?

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Chemical pollution threatens life on Earth. What are the solutions?

Chemical pollution threatens life on Earth. What are the solutions?

The amount of chemical pollution in the world is dangerous for human health and nature, said scientists this week. Economics and policies should reflect this reality.

After belching out enough emissions to change the climate and cause the sixth mass extinction, humans have now allowed chemical pollution to spiral out of control. The era of the Anthropocene is well and truly upon us.

These are the dismal findings of research published on 18 January. It underlines, say campaigners, the importance of Britain not weakening regulations that govern hazardous chemicals post-Brexit.

In 2009, researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Centre – a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences – came up with the concept of “planetary boundaries”. The idea was to specify biophysical conditions that humans needed to thrive, such as healthy nature and climate, and which could inform policymaking. For the first time, scientists have concluded that the planetary boundary for chemical pollution has been breached, putting humanity in danger by threatening the biological and physical processes that underpin life.

There are now an estimated 350,000 different types of manufactured chemicals on the global market. “There has been a 50-fold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950,” said the co-author of the research, Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez from the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “This is projected to triple again by 2050.”

Plastic production alone increased 79 per cent between 2000 and 2015, and is forecast to continue to grow until 2050. “Plastics are an important vector of chemicals, with around 10,000 used for their production. Many are hazardous or their toxicity is unknown,” said Vito Buonsante, a health and environment lecturer and adviser to the International Pollutants Elimination Network.

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Chemical pollution has passed safe limit for humanity, say scientists

Study calls for cap on production and release as pollution threatens global ecosystems upon which life depends

Firefighters take part in an emergency drill against winter chemical hazards and accidents in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
Firefighters take part in an emergency drill against winter chemical hazards and accidents in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

The cocktail of chemical pollution that pervades the planet now threatens the stability of global ecosystems upon which humanity depends, scientists have said.

Plastics are of particularly high concern, they said, along with 350,000 synthetic chemicals including pesticides, industrial compounds and antibiotics. Plastic pollution is now found from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans, and some toxic chemicals, such as PCBs, are long-lasting and widespread.

The study concludes that chemical pollution has crossed a “planetary boundary”, the point at which human-made changes to the Earth push it outside the stable environment of the last 10,000 years.

Chemical pollution threatens Earth’s systems by damaging the biological and physical processes that underpin all life. For example, pesticides wipe out many non-target insects, which are fundamental to all ecosystems and, therefore, to the provision of clean air, water and food.

“There has been a fiftyfold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950 and this is projected to triple again by 2050,” said Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, a PhD candidate and research assistant at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) who was part of the study team. “The pace that societies are producing and releasing new chemicals into the environment is not consistent with staying within a safe operating space for humanity.”

Dr Sarah Cornell, an associate professor and principal researcher at SRC, said: “For a long time, people have known that chemical pollution is a bad thing. But they haven’t been thinking about it at the global level. This work brings chemical pollution, especially plastics, into the story of how people are changing the planet.”

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Pesticides Pollution


Pesticides are chemicals that are used to kill or control pests. This includes herbicides that are used for getting rid of weeds, insecticides used to treat fungicides, nematocides used to control nematodes as well as rodenticides used to treat vertebrate poisoning.


Pesticides contain ingredients such as oxygen, chlorine, sulfur, phosphorus, nitrogen, and bromine as well as heavy metals such as arsenic, copper sulfates, lead, and mercury. Pesticides, being toxic chemicals, can interfere with the environment and cause harms in several ways.

When applied on agricultural lands and domestic gardens, they run off these lands and come in contact with natural resources.


This normally occurs when heavy wind or rain falls on the aforementioned lands, spreading the pesticides, being toxic chemicals, into unintended areas, coming in contact with natural resources such clean air, water, land, plants, and animals, thereby contaminating or harming them.


Once the aforementioned natural resources are contaminated or harmed by pesticides, they are deemed unsuitable and harmful to the environment as well as to people and communities.


Some of the environmental impacts associated with the indiscriminate use of pesticides are listed and briefly explained below;

Biodiversity Destruction: The soil contains small naturally occurring organisms know as microbes. They break down organic materials in the soil and absorb water as well as nutrients in the process, and these are then used by plants to grow. As mentioned earlier, the indiscriminate use of pesticides can have unintended consequences, destroying microbes and affecting the growth of plants.

Also, pesticides often stay in the environment long after beening applied on agricultural lands and this means that they could be sent to water bodies by heavy wind or rainfall. Once in water bodies, they can kill aquatic animals such as fish and depopulate fishes.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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