Helsinki, Water and the Future of Chemistry?

HELSINKI — The first international Helsinki Chemicals Forum (HCF) is well underway, and among the topics being talked about is water.

The event, which plans to meet annually in Finland, aims to bring together industry, world and thought leaders to discuss the sustainable development of the world’s chemical future.

In a pre-survey of participants, water and energy were listed as the critical topics to be considered in prospective global chemical control initiatives.

“Water is the most important substance for human life, and lack of pure water will be a serious problem in the future,” a HCF press release noted.

Organizers hope that chemistry can help contribute to solving the global fresh water crisis, while recognizing that chemical contaminates are also contributing to the problem.

In his keynote address, Achim Steiner — executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) — stressed the importance of developing a clean and safe chemicals future.

“I sincerely believe that your chemicals agenda is now becoming everyone’s again and is returning to international stage,” he said. “In part because the science, rapidly evolving in the research institutes outside the public eye, is re-emerging with new and sobering findings.”

Some of those finds include chemically induced birth defects from the United States to Uganda, possibly threatening the future reproductive health of millions. Other threats, like global warming, may already be releasing previously trapped chemicals back into waterways.

“With the climate agenda…there is emerging evidence that old mercury, locked away in sediments and in ice is again moving back into the food chain,” Steiner said.

The forum, which meets from May 27 through May 29, includes representatives from more than 30 countries and hopes to highlight the power of chemistry in solving some of the world’s most pressing issues.

“The field of chemistry plays a significant role in the search for sustainable solutions in securing the well-being of people and the environment,” moderator Alain Perroy said in a press release.

Still, Steiner’s speech stressed the pivotal role past chemical contamination has played in the safety of the world’s drinkable water, effecting everything from “the fish in Swedish lakes to the breast milk of Inuit mothers.”

Sources: Finn Facts press release, UNEP text of Achim Steiner’s speech, and the HCF website.

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