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

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

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.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid