The United Nations is calling for industry and governments to take urgent to reduce the growing risks to human health and the environment posed by chemicals. A new study by the U.N. Environment Program [UNEP] finds that better management of chemicals could save millions of lives and provide an economic benefit to nations worldwide.The release of the study - the first comprehensive assessment of its kind - follows renewed commitments by countries at the Rio+20 summit in June to prevent the illegal dumping of toxic wastes, develop safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals in products, and increase the recycling of waste, among other measures.
By examining global chemicals trends and their economic implications, the UNEP report maps out the most effective approaches for decision-makers to deliver on these commitments.
"Communities worldwide - particularly those in emerging and developing countries - are increasingly dependent on chemical products, from fertilizers and petrochemicals to electronics and plastics, for economic development and improving livelihoods," said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner."But the gains that chemicals can provide must not come at the expense of human health and the environment. Pollution and disease related to the unsustainable use, production and disposal of chemicals can, in fact, hinder progress towards key development targets by affecting water supplies, food security, well-being or worker productivity. Reducing hazards and improving chemicals management - at all stages of the supply chain - is, thus, an essential component of the transition to a low carbon, resource efficient and inclusive Green Economy," added Mr. Steiner.
At the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002, UN member states set a target that by 2020, chemicals should be produced and used in ways that lead to the minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment."The economic analysis presented in the Global Chemicals Outlook demonstrates that sound chemicals management is as valid an area as education, transport, infrastructure, direct health care services and other essential public services. This could foster the creation of many green, decent and healthy jobs and livelihoods for developed and developing countries," said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health and Environment.
"Effective long-term management of chemicals and wastes lays the foundations for a thriving Green Economy, for ensuring a healthier environment, and for a fairer distribution of development benefits across society," added Dr. Neira.In recent years, international conventions, governments and corporations have taken significant steps in developing national and international capacities for managing chemicals safely and soundly.
But the Global Chemicals Outlook states that the pace of progress has been slow, and that results are too often insufficient.
- Of the estimated 140,000+ chemicals on the market today, only a fraction has been thoroughly evaluated to determine their effects on human health and the environment.
- Among primarily OECD countries, the data indicate that inorganic chemicals such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, sulfuric acid, and hydrochloric acid and organic chemicals such as styrene, formaldehyde, toluene and acetaldehyde are routinely among the chemical air pollutants released in the highest quantities.
- Pollutants commonly discharged in large quantities in primarily OECD countries to surface waters include inorganic chemicals such as nitric acid/nitrate compounds, ammonia and manganese and organic chemicals such as methanol, ethylene glycol, phenol, toluene, and formaldehyde.
- Estimates suggest that up to 75 per cent of the e-waste generated in Europe and approximately 80 per cent of the e-waste generated in the United States goes unaccounted for.
- Poisonings from industrial and agricultural chemicals are among the top five leading causes of death worldwide, contributing to over 1 million deaths annually and 14 million Disability Adjusted Life Years. The scope of unintended industrial accidents involving chemicals continues to grow rapidly.