A world without chemicals? No - A chemical-safe future? Yes
The Fourth Session of The International Conference On Chemicals Management (ICCM4) kicks off in Geneva on 28 September, 2015 and features a High-Level Segment: Commitment To A Chemical-Safe Future for Health, Environment and Economic Growth. Convened by the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), ICCM4 marks SAICM’s 10th anniversary and is expected to endorse an implementation plan for meeting the 2020 goal on sound chemicals management.
Chemicals are everywhere, more than 100,000 of them. Their long scientific names and complex formulas make the simplest things possible: food, toys, clothes, our phones and more. Chemicals have the power to build economies, sustain societies, cure the sick, entertain, feed and clothe us. The ways in which we use chemicals can make the difference between environmental degradation and rich resources, between health and illness, between a thriving economy and one that is threatened by occupational exposure to chemicals and associated costs of disease.
Global chemicals sales are projected to grow about 3 per cent per year to 2050. It is also estimated that by 2020, developing countries will produce 31 per cent of global chemicals and use 33 per cent of global chemicals. The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) is a catalyst, connecting sectors and stakeholders, all working towards a chemical-safe future. SAICM will continue to support closing the gap in chemicals and waste management between developed and developing countries, through stakeholders’ actions and through projects funded under the Quick Start Programme. ICCM4 includes a High-Level Segment with Ministers, CEOs, heads of UN agencies and organizations, high-level participants from major groups and stakeholders, and the private sector. It will strengthen linkages and opportunities for SAICM to contribute directly to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) beyond 2020.
The most affected if chemicals are not properly managed are women, children, rural communities and the poor. Childhood lead exposure is estimated to contribute to about 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities every year. Metals, food additives, and ingredients in plastics, cosmetics, some medicines, textiles and construction materials also have the potential to cause physical and mental impairment and hormonal disruptions that lead to disease.
One continuing area of concern is lead paint which is still sold and used in developing countries even though safer alternatives have been available for years. Lead exposure contributes to about 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities every year. We are collecting data, providing information on ways to determine lead content of paint, promoting the use of regulations, working to stop sale and manufacture of lead paint and encouraging use of safe alternatives. SAICM is working with partners to address lead in paint as one of five emerging policy issues alongside Chemicals in Products (CiP), Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), Hazardous Substances in the Lifecycle of Electronics and Electrical Products (HSLEEP), and Nanotechnology.
Responsible businesses have been showing that safe production and sound management of chemicals throughout their lifecycle, including using safer chemical alternatives in products, has altered nothing in the profit line nor damaged their brand – on the contrary. Leaders taking steps to share information, enforce legislation, ban toxic chemicals are at the forefront, taking action for a chemical-safe world.
In the past 10 years, SAICM has enabled actions beyond legal requirements, brought attention to, and catalysed actions on emerging policy issues, supported projects worth more than $110 million in more than 100 developing countries, built networks among sectors and stakeholders and facilitated cooperation among them. Only five years remain for governments, industry and other stakeholders to achieve the 2020 goal – great strides are being made yet all stakeholders need to commit and stay engaged in order to accelerate progress. The joint challenges of sound chemicals management and waste, along with sustainable food security, consumption, production and resource efficiency offer the potential for successful breakthroughs for a sustainable future.