News / Health

    Health, Environmental Hazards From Chemicals Are Rising

    Activists demonstrate against Lynas Corporation to raise questions over the potential environmental hazards arising from radioactive waste, in Gebeng, east of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 19, 2012.Activists demonstrate against Lynas Corporation to raise questions over the potential environmental hazards arising from radioactive waste, in Gebeng, east of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 19, 2012.
    x
    Activists demonstrate against Lynas Corporation to raise questions over the potential environmental hazards arising from radioactive waste, in Gebeng, east of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 19, 2012.
    Activists demonstrate against Lynas Corporation to raise questions over the potential environmental hazards arising from radioactive waste, in Gebeng, east of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 19, 2012.
    Lisa SchleinMichael Lipin
    GENEVA — The United Nations is calling for urgent action to reduce the growing health and environmental hazards from exposure to chemical substances.

    In a new study titled “Global Chemicals Outlook,” the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) says sound management of chemicals could save millions of lives and provide an economic bonanza to nations worldwide.

    The report presents a stark view of a world that is overwhelmed by increased volumes of chemicals.  It says little is known about the estimated 143,000 chemicals being produced.

    The U.N. Environment Program says only a fraction of these chemicals have been evaluated to determine their effects on human health and the environment.  Chemicals are pervasive in every aspect of life.  The report says they are used in agriculture, electronics and mining.  They are found in products such as paints, adhesives, textiles and toys for children.

    The report says death and disability rates from the unsafe use of chemical products are high.  For example, it notes poisonings from industrial and agricultural chemicals are among the top five leading causes of death worldwide, contributing to over 1 million deaths annually.

    Besides the health costs, UNEP’S director of the Division for Technology, Industry and Economics, Sylvie Lemmet, says the unsound management of chemicals has very high economic costs.

    “If you look at the estimated cost of poisoning from pesticide in sub-Saharan Africa, only the injury and the loss of working time…is estimated to be 6.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2009," said Lemmet. "This is higher than the total ODA [Overseas Development Aid] that is going to the health sector in that same area…So, the argument is there to say…the cost in a way of inaction is so high than preventing these costs makes an economic benefit.”   

    UNEP reports global chemical sales are set to increase by around 3 percent a year until 2050.  It says production is quickly shifting from developed to developing countries.  The report says chemical production is set to increase by 40 percent in Africa and the Middle East between 2012 and 2020 and Latin America is expected to see a 33 percent rise.  

    The report cites as key environmental concerns pesticide and fertilizer contamination of rivers and lakes, heavy metal pollution associated with cement and textile production, and dioxin contamination from mining.

    It also stresses the dangers of persistent organic pollutants, which can be transported over long distances in the air and are later deposited onto land and water resources.  As these chemicals accumulate in organisms, they move up the food chain.  Scientists say they are responsible for the near extinction of some species.

    The World Health Organization estimates more than 25 percent of the global burden of disease is linked to environmental factors.  The director of WHO’s Department of Public Health and the Environment, Maria Neira, says 4.9 million deaths from these diseases are attributable to environmental exposure of selected chemicals.  

    “We have data available proving that. I think that is an enormous figure: 4.9 million deaths that could be avoided if we have better management in reducing exposure to those chemicals," said Neira.  "Obviously, this figure is an underestimation.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  We know that data is only available on a very small number of chemicals.  If we go for more that would probably give us a more dramatic figure.”  

    Authors of the U.N. report say preventing harm is cheaper than fixing it.  They say poor management of chemicals creates health and environmental safety hazards.  It also incurs multi-billion-dollar costs worldwide.

    Among its recommendations, the report urges chemical producers, manufacturers and importers to play an active role in working with governments to develop safety policies.  It urges governments in developing and emerging countries to establish policies that focus on preventing risks and promoting safer alternatives, rather than only rectifying hazards.

    The American Chemistry Council (ACC), a group that represents U.S. chemical companies, says it shares UNEP's concern about the impact of chemicals on human health. It says the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), of which it is a member, has conducted more than 40 workshops with businesses in developing countries to enhance their management of chemicals in the past four years.

    The U.S. industry group says the ICCA has partnered with UNEP to improve the safety of chemical transport and warehousing in Africa and has worked with other partners in Ukraine and Mozambique to train personnel in preventing human exposure from past chemical contamination.

    The ACC says it also has concerns about what it calls "serious shortcomings" in the UNEP study. It says there are "significant" data gaps that prevent the report from being able to distinguish the health impacts of chemicals from those of other environmental factors, resulting in "unreliable conclusions."

    Another international business group, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, says the UNEP report "does not capture all that chemical companies are doing." It says the global industry has greater expertise and better environmental, health and safety practices than it has had in the past.

    SOCMA says its participating companies share best practices and learn from other businesses about how to implement the most effective programs, allowing them to continuously improve their programs. It also says nations such as Canada have developed chemical management plans that are "transparent" and "effectively involve" stakeholders.

    UNEP's Global Chemicals Outlook, the first comprehensive assessment of its kind, will be reviewed during the third session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management in Nairobi later this month.

    The original version of this story was presented without representation from both sides. This updated version reflects another viewpoint.

    Michael Lipin

    Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.