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Smart Chemicals Management – Valid Tool For Achieving Sustainable Development

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 5 2012 (IPS) - Long-term chemical management is urgently needed to ensure sustainable development and protect human health worldwide, particularly in the developing countries, according to the ‘Global Chemicals Outlook’ launched Wednesday.

“Communities worldwide – particularly those in emerging and developing countries – are increasingly dependent on chemical products for economic development and improving livelihoods,” said Achim Steiner, U.N. Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the Nairobi-based U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

“But the gains that chemicals can provide must not come at the expense of human health and the environment,” he said, in a statement released here.

The new UNEP report, whose findings followed a two-year long investigation that included assessments from experts from several countries, examines the major environment and health impact as well as economic implications resulting from the unsustainable production, use and disposal of chemicals.

Millions of people are exposed continuously to the hazards chemicals in their daily life, which range from pesticides and fertilizers to electronic waste or petrochemicals produced by industries.

Increasing global chemical output, from $171 billion in 1970 to staggering $ 4.12 trillion in 2010, is posing growing threat to human health and environment across the world.

The long-term exposure on pesticides, for example, resulted in Mexico in children’s neuro-developmental deficits, such as diminished short-term memory, whereas in central Sudan it caused the consistent two-fold elevated risk of perinatal mortality.

Furthermore, in sub-Saharan Africa the estimated costs of poisonings from pesticides now exceeds the total annual overseas development aid given to the region for basic health services, the report states.

However, a transition towards a sound chemicals management can bring major economic benefits and support the Green Economy by reducing financial burdens and risks to human health, while improving livelihoods, supporting ecosystems, reducing pollution and developing green technology.

“The Global Chemicals Outook is a wake-up call for policy makers and private sectors. It clearly demonstrates that the health and environment harms from the chemicals are serious and are escalated,” Valerie Denney, Communications Director at the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), told journalists at a UN Headquarters at a press conference Wednesday.

“We have an opportunity to turn the situation around, but it will require urgent action by all parties, governments, U.N. Organizations, other international organizations, industry, civil society, and others,” she added.

Also urging for an immediate action plan to ensure the safe chemicals management was Rachel Massey, lead author of the report.

“There is a need to focus on prevention. The best results can be achieved by reducing the use of toxic chemicals in industry rather than simply focusing on ways to store or clean-up hazardous waste after it has been generated,” she told journalists at the conference.

“There is a pressing need for adequate funding to support the sound management of chemicals in developing countries,” she added.

Despite an effort that is currently underway by many Governments and industries to approach the safe management of chemicals at the national and international level, the findings of the Outlook show that much still has to be achieved, as “the pace of progress has been slow, and that results are often to insufficient”.

“Preventing harm is cheeper than fixing it. Doing nothing is the most expensive option,” said Denney.

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