The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact across all areas of analytical instrumentation, from small academic labs to large pharmaceutical production. Environmental testing labs have been no exception, with many having to focus on COVID-19 testing or having to furlough staff. Environmental testing is conducted by a variety of industries, including utilities, government regulators, ag/food/beverages, and chemicals to name a few, and commercial environmental testing labs are often key to keep up with environmental regulations and monitoring. While the long-term effects of COVID-19 continue to be clouded by uncertainty, some interesting short-term effects on environmental testing have been seen over the past several months.
In the United States, the EPA has relaxed the enforcement of several public health and environmental protections, citing the need to help businesses survive the harsh economic climate. According to the agency, fines will not be levied against violating certain monitoring or reporting requirements for the duration of the outbreak. With health concerns and limited staffing, the EPA said it would have a difficult time enforcing environmental and safety requirements. Similar relaxations on enforcement have also been seen in Brazil. Within the European Union, pressure from business groups has been mounting as lobbying efforts to relax or delay environmental-related legislation intensifies. These groups include chemical industry lobbying groups asking for a delay on measures meant to protect people from toxic chemicals like PFOA, auto industry groups asking for a delay on new vehicle emission standards, and the European Plastic Converters group demanding the ban of single-use plastic be delayed or cancelled. Each of these groups cite economic concerns as the key reason for these delays. Despite these lobbying efforts, the current proposed EU recovery plan valued at over $800 million includes enforcement mechanisms and other environmental provisions to push countries to adhere to 2050 environmental goals.
While the uncertainty over the health and economic effects of the pandemic continues to cloud the situation, some lawmakers are beginning to look toward plans for a post-COVID recovery. Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and six other countries agreed to collaborate to pursue a green recovery plan. These countries feel the Paris Agreement will be threatened as economic recovery will undercut the need to meet carbon emission goals. Interestingly, France and Germany, the largest economies in the EU, were not part of the agreement. Similar concerns about the long-term stability of the Paris Agreement have also been raised by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment. In China, economic concerns have also taken precedence despite the country’s recent history of increasingly stringent environmental laws to combat pollution. The Ministry of Ecology and Environment stated that environmental regulations will be adjusted to meet the needs of the current economic situation. Currently, the country looks to spend over $200 billion on new infrastructure projects ranging from rail/metro systems to 5G networks to boost the domestic economy, though this proposal does not include climate-related stipulations like the EU proposal.
According to SDi’s newly released Market Opportunity Report: Environmental Testing Labs 2020, the commercial environmental testing market accounts for over $2 billion. While environmental testing has been one of the fastest growing areas for analytical instrumentation, the current situation will surely disrupt this trend. Reduced staffing, relaxed regulatory monitoring and enforcement, and the favoring of business recovery over environmental goals certainly spells a worrying short-term future for the environmental testing market. The longer the pandemic persists, the longer these negative effects will be felt. Some analytical technologies will fare better than others. Those technologies strongly tied to drinking water testing, like UV/Vis spectrophotometers or electrochemistry meters, will be less affected since they are used for an essential function. Other environmental testing technologies, especially those tied to industrial applications like wastewater testing or air monitoring, will be more affected for the duration of the pandemic. Despite this short-term decline, the post-COVID recovery will see greater demand for these technologies as many industries are expected to ramp up production in order to meet pent-up demand.
Environmental testing remains of the largest areas for analytical instrumentation, but the ever-changing regulatory environment makes it crucial for instrument makers to have a clear view of the trends influencing the market. The new Market Opportunity Report: Environmental Testing Labs 2020 from SDi covers 31 different analytical techniques utilized for environmental testing. The report also features analysis of the various regional and end market trends affecting the environmental market with forecasts through 2024.