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Tuesday, December 1, 2020
MADRID, Jul 10 2019 (IPS) - In case you were not aware or just do not remember: all you eat, drink, breathe, wear, take as a medicine, the cosmetics you use, the walls of your house, among others, is full of chemicals. And all is really ALL.
For instance, in your bathroom, formaldehyde often sits in your shampoo, microbeads in your toothpaste, phthalates in your nail polish and antimicrobials in your soaps, while your medicine cabinet contains a myriad of synthetic pharmaceuticals.
In your kitchen, a juicy strawberry may carry traces of up to 20 different pesticides.
Who tells all these and many other shocking facts is one of the top world organisations dealing with the sources and dangers of pollution and contamination – the UN Environment, which on 29 April 2019 released its Global Chemicals Outlook.
Chemicals, chemicals, chemicals everywhere
See what Tanzanian microbiologist and environmental scientist Joyce Msuya, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said in her introduction to this report:
“Chemicals are part of our everyday lives. From pharmaceuticals to plant protection, innovations in chemistry can improve our health, food security and much more. However, if poorly used and managed, hazardous chemicals and waste threaten human health and the environment.
“As the second Global Chemicals Outlook lays out, global trends such as population dynamics, urbanisation and economic growth are rapidly increasing chemical use, particularly in emerging economies.
“In 2017, the industry was worth more than 5 trillion dollars. By 2030, this will double.
“Large quantities of hazardous chemicals and pollutants continue to leak into the environment, contaminating food chains and accumulating in our bodies, where they do serious damage.
“Estimates by the European Environment Agency suggest that 62 per cent of the volume of chemicals consumed in Europe in 2016 were hazardous to health.
“The World Health Organization estimates the burden of disease from selected chemicals at 1.6 million lives in 2016. The lives of many more are negatively impacted…”
Referring to the agreed objective that, by 2020, chemicals will be produced and used in ways that minimise significant adverse effects on the environment and human health, Joyce Msuya warned “At our current pace, we will not achieve the goal.”
The following are three key findings included in the report, among many others.
One is that the size of the global chemical industry exceeded 5 trillion dollars in 2017. It is projected to double by 2030. Consumption and production are rapidly increasing in emerging economies. Global supply chains, and the trade of chemicals and products, are becoming increasingly complex.
Another one is that, driven by global mega-trends, growth in chemical-intensive industry sectors (e.g. construction, agriculture, electronics) creates risks, but also opportunities to advance sustainable consumption, production and product innovation.
And a third one is that hazardous chemicals and other pollutants (e.g. plastic waste and pharmaceutical pollutants) continue to be released in large quantities. They are ubiquitous in humans and the environment and are accumulating in material stocks and products, highlighting the need to avoid future legacies through sustainable materials management and circular business models.
The Global Chemicals Outlook covers three broad inter-linked areas building upon the findings of existing and concurrent studies:
Production, trade, use and disposal of chemicals
Both the continuous growth trends and the changes in global production, trade and use of chemicals point towards an increasing chemical intensification of the economy.
This chemical intensification of the economy derives largely from several factors, such as the increased volume and a shift of production and use from highly industrialised countries to developing countries and countries in economic transition.
Another factor is the penetration of chemical intensive products into national economies through globalisation of sales and use.
Then there are the increased chemical emissions resulting from major economic development sectors.
According to the report, products of the chemical industry that are increasingly replacing natural materials in both industrial and commercial products.
Thus, petrochemical lubricants, coatings, adhesives, inks, dyes, creams, gels, soaps, detergents, fragrances and plastics are replacing conventional plant, animal and ceramic based products.
Industries and research institutions which are increasingly developing sophisticated and novel nano-scale chemicals and synthetic halogenated compounds that are creating new functions such as durable, non-stick, stain resistant, fire retardant, water-resistant, non-corrosive surfaces, and metallic, conductive compounds that are central to integrated circuits used in cars, cell phones, and computers.
Penetration of chemical intensive products
The Global Outlook also informs that many countries are primarily importers of chemicals and are not significant producers. Agricultural chemicals and pesticides used in farming were among the first synthetic chemicals to be actively exported to developing countries.
Today, as consumption of a wide range of products increases over time, these products themselves become a significant vehicle increasing the presence of chemicals in developing and transition economies, the report explains, adding the following information:
Chemical contamination and waste associated with industrial sectors of importance in developing countries include: pesticides from agricultural runoff; heavy metals associated with cement production; dioxin associated with electronics recycling; mercury and other heavy metals associated with mining and coal combustion, explains the Global Outlook.
They also include: butyl tins, heavy metals, and asbestos released during ship breaking; heavy metals associated with tanneries; mutagenic dyes, heavy metals and other pollutants associated with textile production; toxic metals, solvents, polymers, and flame retardants used in electronics manufacturing, and the direct exposure resulting from the long range transport of many chemicals through environmental media that deliver chemical pollutants which originate from sources thousands of kilometres away.
Health and environmental effects
According to the report:
These include an increased cancer rate in workers in electronics facilities; high blood lead levels among workers at lead-acid battery manufacturing and recycling plants; flame retardant exposures among workers in electronic waste recycling; mercury poisoning in small-scale gold miners; asbestosis among workers employed in asbestos mining and milling; and acute and chronic pesticide poisoning among workers in agriculture in many countries.
In spite of these and other immense negative impacts on health and the environment, the more than 400 scientists and experts around the world, who worked over three long years to prepare the Global Chemicals Outlook, underscore that the goal to minimise adverse impacts of chemicals and waste will not be achieved by 2020.
“Solutions exist,” the 400 world experts emphasise, “but more ambitious worldwide action by all stakeholders is urgently required.”
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