Science shaping campaigns


Dr Kevin Brigden at work in Greenpeace’s research laboratory, Exeter University

The Greenpeace Research Laboratories were first established within the University of London in 1986 to provide the dedicated scientific support needed by Greenpeace offices around the world.

Now based at the University of Exeter, the labs provide an invaluable source of rigorous, independent scientific analysis and research, in a landscape otherwise dominated by corporate sponsorship, and underpin many different aspects of the campaigning work of Greenpeace.

To cite just a few examples, in recent years we have:

  • Exposed widespread toxic contamination of our natural environment, in particular with persistent organic pollutants (POPS), most recently by documenting the presence of toxic PCBs and brominated flame retardant chemicals in eels from lakes and rivers in ten European countries;
  • Exposed the issue of chemical contamination in the home, through analysis of house dust from homes in the UK and several other countries across Europe, as well as identifying potential sources of the chemicals in the form of the consumer goods to which they are added;
  • Documented contamination of the workplace and local environment surrounding dangerous and poorly-regulated electronic scrap (e-waste) recycling yards in China and India, often receiving waste from Europe and North America;
  • Traced radioactive discharges from Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in the UK, to fish in Scotland and seaweeds in the North Sea, and documented radioactive contamination caused by a fertilizer factory in the Eastern Mediterranean;
  • Revealed the presence of toxic heavy metals in fly ash originating from coal-fired power plants in the Philippines and Thailand.
  • Proved that drinking water from wells surrounding the site of the 1984 Union Carbide pesticide factory gas leak in Bhopal was still contaminated with high levels of toxic chlorinated solvents 20 years on;
  • Developed mobile kits to test for GM contamination in the field, so far used fir rapid screening in more than 15 countries around the world, part of Greenpeace’s wider work to highlight the threat of genetically engineered crops and animal feed;
  • Helped collect some of the first high quality video images of marine life on the cold-water coral reefs in the deep,together with the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS)
  • Identified the need for other fragile deep-sea ecosystems, especially those associated with undersea mountain systems (seamounts), to be designated as marine reserves;
  • ” Highlighted the shortcomings of the science used to justify the recent resumption of the Canadian harp seal hunt;
  • ” Explored the environmental, technical and legal risks of disposing of carbon dioxide from power stations in the marine environment, including beneath the seabed, as a technical fix to tackle climate change (so-called Carbon Capture and Storage) and contributed as a co-author to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the issue;
  • Proposed new ways of financing the protection of ancient forest ecosystems.

The positive effects of our research are only too evident. For example, studies on persistent organic pollutants in European eels and in house dust have not only led to similar studies being undertaken in other countries but have also helped place the need for the mandatory substitution of hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives right at the heart of the debate on the new chemicals legislation for Europe (REACH).

Our work to document environmental and human health threats at the e-waste recycling yards in Asia has contributed to renewed global public and political attention to this fast growing problem.

And our ongoing research into a whole range of other issues, including the dangers of GM crops, risks related to carbon capture and storage and the threats to sensitive and fragile marine species from overfishing and destructive fishing practices, has enabled Greenpeace to stay ahead of scientific developments, to continue raising public awareness and to work tirelessly to influence policy developments at national, regional and global level.