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Chemicals Action Plan in Stockholm – what have we learned in seven years? – Think before you buy

At the start of the NonHazCity project the city of Stockholm already had a Chemicals Action Plan and the project wanted to apply the same approach in other municipalities. Some people did not believe this would work – applying a Scandinavian approach in Eastern Baltic countries will be impossible, they said. But with the results from NonHazCity 1 and 2 we believe we have proved them wrong!

But back to Stockholm. During NonHazCity1 the City of Stockholm implemented, evaluated and started revising their action plan, and now the new version has been accepted by the City council. What experiences have they made along the way? What were the major success factors, and what did they change for the second plan? Mr Arne Jamtrot is head of the Chemicals Centre, a unit at the Environment and Health Department that is responsible for supporting the City’s entities in the implementation of the plan and made the revision.

  • The thing that our entities most frequently wanted to stress when asked about the implementation of the first CAP was the importance of the support they get from the chemicals centre. Of course we see that as a confirmation that the decision to form this centre was correct and important. There is a continuous need to dig into specific issues related to hazardous substances in specific applications to guide the responsible actors. There is no way to answer all such questions in an action plan and just let everybody start working.

He continues:

  • And that may also be the most important thing we learned for the second plan: that we need to work in a systematic way with gradually more and more specific advice to our entities. During the first years we produced guidance documents for sectors like pre-schools and about the use of artificial turf. I think this is how we need to work. I also think we are now a bit more specific and point out the most important measures, the most relevant articles and products to focus on, rather than only talking about making non-hazardous choices everywhere.

And what was it that made Stockholm produce their first Chemicals Action Plan?

Arne Jamtrot says that for years the City of Stockholm Environment and Health Department has worked with monitoring hazardous substances, investigating their effects in the environment and mapping their sources. Several projects were carried out during the decades around 2000 giving a lot of insight in the problem and its origins. Meanwhile on national level there was the Environmental objective ”A non-toxic environment” decided by the parliament. The work with this was led by the Chemicals Agency who in 2010 published an Action plan for a toxic-free everyday life.

“This action plan inspired me a lot,” says Arne Jamtrot who had worked in several of the projects in the City and was the main author of the first Chemicals Acton Plan. “It put together all the different ways that the problem has to be approached on national level and I thought it would be great to do something like that for the City.”

Another important development was that a well-known NGO, the Swedish Society for the Conservation of Nature, launched their operation “Non-Toxic Pre-Schools”. This highlighted the need for reducing children’s exposure to hazardous substances and the message reached a lot of people, mainly parents (and grandparents!) to small children. Arne Jamtrot again:

  • I think this helped raise the awareness among people in general, and our more research-like projects raised the knowledge of the decision makers in the city. Together, it made the time right to get to action.

The increased concern for hazardous substances among the City’s employees was noted also on the political level. Mr. Albin Ring is a legal officer at the Environment and Health Department, and at the time of the writing of the first Chemicals Action Plan he was a senior political advisor to the vice mayor for the environment and responsible for the Action Plan:

  • When the Environment Program was to be decided we received a lot of input from the City’s departments and companies, expressing both a wish to contribute to the objectives about hazardous substances, but also very much a need for clearer directions about how to: What are the most important substances, where can they be found, who needs to do what to substitute them? It was clear to us that the objectives in the Environment Program needed an action plan to elaborate on these things.

So what will be the next step? Arne Jamtrot again:

  • We are hoping to have the measures in the CAP made more clearly linked to the City’s integrated management system, so that the responsible entites will be made aware of what they need to do to reach the City’s environmental objectives. That is something that is still a bit unclear which both makes it difficult for the entities to plan their work and for the Executive office to follow up the implementation of the plan.