Urgent action needed to tackle chemical pollution: UN

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Nairobi, March 11 (IANS) Countries will not meet the internationally agreed goal to minimise adverse impact of chemicals and waste by 2020, which means urgent action is required to reduce further damage to human health and economies, said a UN report, here on Monday.

Chemical production and consumption is shifting to emerging economies, in particular China. The Asia-Pacific region is projected to account for over two-third of the global sales by 2030.

The second Global Chemicals Outlook, presented during the UN Environment Assembly here, says the current chemical production capacity of 2.3 billion tonnes, valued at $5 trillion, is projected to double by 2030.

Despite commitments to maximise the benefits and minimise the impacts of this industry, hazardous chemicals continue to be released in the environment in large quantities. They have become ubiquitous in air, water and soil, food and human.

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“Whether the growth in chemicals becomes a net positive or a net negative for the humanity depends on how we manage the chemicals challenge,” said Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment.

“What is clear is that we must do much more, together,” said Msuya.

While international treaties and voluntary instruments have reduced the risks of some chemicals and wastes, progress has been uneven and implementation gaps remain, it said.

For example, as of 2018, more than 120 countries had not implemented the globally harmonised system of classification and labelling of chemicals.

Chemical pollution also threatens a range of ecosystem services.

Conversely, the benefits of action to minimise adverse impacts have been estimated in the high tens of billions of dollars annually.

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“The findings are important for developing countries,” said David Kapindula, a member of the report’s steering committee, from the Zambia Environmental Management Agency.

“They highlight the uneven implementation of chemicals and waste management and points out opportunities for enhanced knowledge sharing, capacity development and innovative financing,” said Kapindula.

From pharmaceuticals to plant protection, chemicals play an important role in modern society and in achieving goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Driven by economic development, population dynamics and other megatrends, the chemicals market across a range of industry sectors is growing. For example, the chemicals market in the construction sector is expected to grow 6.2 per cent annually, between 2018 and 2023.

Pesticides have been found to negatively impact pollinators, excess use of phosphorous and nitrogen in agriculture continues to contribute to ocean dead zones and chemicals used in sunscreens put pressure on coral reef ecosystems.

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Studies also indicate that releases of some antimicrobials, heavy metals and disinfectants contribute to antimicrobial resistance.

(Vishal Gulati is in Nairobi at the invitation of the UN Environment. He can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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