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Urgent action needed on growing health, environmental hazards from chemicals.

| GENEVA, Spet 5 (KUNA) -- Coordinated action by governments and industry is urgently needed to reduce the growing risks to human health and the environment posed by the unsustainable management of chemicals worldwide, according to a new report relessd on Wednesday by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

These risks are compounded by the steady shift in the production, use and disposal of chemical products from developed countries to emerging and developing economies, where safeguards and regulations are often weaker, says the report.

The report reveals that the estimated costs of poisonings from pesticides in sub-Saharan Africa now exceeds the total annual overseas development aid given to the region for basic health services, excluding HIV/AIDS.

Between 2005 and 2020, the accumulated cost of illness and injury linked to pesticides in small scale farming in sub-Saharan Africa could reach USD 90 billion.

Sound chemicals management can reduce these financial and health burdens, while improving livelihoods, supporting ecosystems, reducing pollution, and developing green technology, says the study.

By examining global chemicals trends and their economic implications, the UNEP report maps out the most effective approaches for decision-makers to deliver on these commitments.

The Global Chemicals Outlook states that the pace of progress has been slow, and that results are too often insufficient.

Of the estimated more than 140,000 chemicals on the market today, only a fraction has been thoroughly evaluated to determine their effects on human health and the environment.

Estimates suggest that up to 75 percent of the e-waste generated in Europe and approximately 80 percent of the e-waste generated in the United States goes unaccounted for.

Poisonings from industrial and agricultural chemicals are among the top five leading causes of death worldwide, contributing to over 1 million deaths annually and 14 million Disability Adjusted Life Years. The scope of unintended industrial accidents involving chemicals continues to grow rapidly.

In developing and emerging economies, products of the chemicals industry - such as dyes, detergents, and adhesives among others - are rapidly replacing traditional plant, animal, or ceramic-based products.

According to the UNEP report, global chemical sales are set to increase by around 3 percent a year until 2050.

Africa and the Middle East are set to register an average 40 percent increase in chemical production between 2012 and 2020, with Latin America expected to see a 33 percent rise.

This chemical 'intensification' of economies, as termed by the UNEP report, means that synthetic chemicals are fast becoming the largest constituents of waste streams and pollution around the world - thereby increasing the exposure of humans and habitats to chemical hazards.

In Sudan, for exampel, studies show a three-fold elevated risk of mortality for pregnant women engaged in farming where pesticides are used.

In Ecuador, bathing and drinking water used by villagers near an oil extraction site contained levels of petroleum hydrocarbons up to 288 times higher than European Community standards.

Over 3000 chemicals are classified under the EU harmonized classifications as toxic to aquatic life, with levels of toxicity ranging between "very toxic" to "toxic with long lasting harmful effects".

Key environmental concerns include pesticide and fertilizer contamination of rivers and lakes, heavy metal pollution associated with cement and textile production, and dioxin contamination from mining.

Run-off from fertilizers and pesticides is contributing to a growing number of oxygen-poor 'dead zones' in coastal waters. According to UNEP's Global Environment Outlook 5, released in June 2012, only 13 of the world's 169 coastal dead zones are recovering.

Mercury, for example, is transformed by aquatic organisms into compounds that can reach tens of thousands of times the concentration originally found in water. As well as harming biodiversity, this can have a serious effect on fisheries - an important source of protein and livelihoods for millions of people worldwide.

A transition towards sustainable production, use, and disposal of chemicals can yield significant economic benefits in terms of development, poverty reduction, and reduced risks to human health and the environment, says the Global Chemicals Outlook.

Poor management of chemicals is incurring multi-billion dollar costs worldwide - most of which are not borne by manufacturers or others along the supply chain, but instead by social welfare systems or individuals.

Poor management of volatile organic compounds is responsible for global economic losses estimated at USD 236.3 billion.

Exposure to mercury results in health and environmental damage estimated at USD 22 billion.

The damage caused by acute water pollution to commercial fisheries in China has been estimated at USD 634 million during the period of one year.

In the US, poorly managed pesticides have resulted in USD 1.4 billion in crop losses, and USD 2.2 billion in bird losses.

The Buncefield oil storage depot incident in the UK resulted in one of the biggest conflagrations in peace-time Europe, with losses of over GB pound 1 billion in litigation and medical costs alone.

In developed and developing countries, longer, more complex supply chains, and the introduction of new chemical compounds mean that products are now more likely to fail to meet safety standards, according to the UNEP report.

This can increase the risk of industrial accidents, and the heavy financial and health burdens they bring. Costs incurred due to asbestos and contaminated drywall, for example, total over USD 125 billion worldwide - and the figure is still rising.(end) ta.wsa KUNA 051224 Sep 12NNNN

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Publication:Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)
Geographic Code:60SUB
Date:Sep 5, 2012
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