Today’s society produces, uses and distributes chemicals on a very large scale: whereas in 1930 approx. one million tons of chemicals were produced around the globe, today it is over 400 million tons. Chemicals are both raw materials and products. They ensure that televisions, computers and mobile phones work and that pharmaceuticals and cosmetics are effective. They are found in textiles, furniture, paints and cleaning agents – they increase crops yields and are used in food preservatives.
Chemicals improve our standard of living, but they also may show adverse effects. The hazards and risks of chemical substances for humans and the environment has been the source of a never-ending debate for decades, because it is often difficult to identify them. When substances have already been used and it turns out that they (or their transformation products) have adverse effects that have not been investigated, it is often difficult and cost-intensive to clean up the contamination.
Consequently, knowledge about the properties of chemical substances, the fate of substances in the environment and the ecotoxicity of chemicals is a scientific challenge and strategic starting point to prospectively protect human and environmental health and to pave the way for sustainable chemistry.
Linking the Helmholtz research fields and Helmholtz research programmes
Most of the research within the UFZ’s core subject "Chemicals in the Environment/ Health" is carried out in the frame of the research programme "Terrestrial Environment" within the Helmholtz research field "Earth and Environment".
A part of the core sunject is also assigned to the Helmholtz research field "Health". In the research programme "Genes and Environmental in Common Deseases (GENCODE)" scientists at the UFZ analyse the impact of environmental and lifestyle factors on the immune system and on respiratory diseases, particularly of newborns. This includes epidemiological studies as well as molecular and cellular research.
Most of the UFZ research in the GENCODE programme is embedded in the Integrated Project (IP) "Exposome".
Research in the core subject is conducted in two Integrated projects (IP), both coordinated by UFZ: