Chemicals management is increasingly a serious global problem but unfortunately one of the most "muted" in the world. ICCM met last September to address a sustainable management of chemicals
The main causes of this problem are the constant increase in the production of chemicals, the strong lobby that displays a powerful industry to oppose regulation, the lack of knowledge and responsibility from industries that use most of the substances without assessing risks for workers and the environment.
Shortly before the meeting of the International Conference on Chemicals Management, UNEP's released the Global Chemicals Outlook, which highlights the major economic burden caused by chemical hazards, particularly in developing countries. ITUC, together with Sustainlabour and ISTAS, participated in the elaboration of the report, bringing information on occupational Impacts and the costs of inaction.
The report included some interesting highlights:
- 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.
- Estimates for selected chemicals (including pesticides) involved in unintentional acute and occupational poisonings, a limited number of occupational carcinogens and particulates and lead, correspond to a total of 964,000 deaths and 20,986,153 DALYs, corresponding to 1.6% of the total deaths and 1.4% of the total burden of disease worldwide. To compare, among the global top ten leading causes of death in 2004, HIV/AIDS caused 2 million deaths, tuberculosis caused 1.5 million deaths, road traffic accidents caused 1.27 million deaths, and malaria caused 0.9 million deaths (WHO, 2008).
- Workers in industries using chemicals are especially vulnerable through exposure to toxic chemicals and related health effects. 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.
The GEO also includes as best practices trade union experiences such as the Risctox by ISTAS CCOO and the Trade Union Priority List by ETUC. To download the report click here
The 3rd International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM3) took place from 16 – 21 September in Nairobi, Kenya. ICCM3 met to assess progress on implementation of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM). ICCM3 contained over 400 delegates, representing 122 governments, 19 international organizations, 79 NGOs and 2 representatives from trade unions.
Some principal results of ICCM3:
- Consensus decision that endocrine disrupters are a global emerging policy issue and the need for measures that could contribute to reductions in exposures to or the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, in particular among vulnerable populations
- Highly hazardous pesticides emerged as an issue at the meeting when Kenya along with 20 countries, IPEN, PAN, ITUC and others proposed a resolution calling for their elimination, substitution, and addition to the FAO Code of Conduct. More than 65 countries supported the resolution in plenary. Even though it was not passed, several key stakeholders urged intersessional work on the topic and concerns over HHPs will be documented in the meeting report.
- Extended the Quick Start Programme to support activities to enable initial capacity-building and implementation, though no commitments were made for contributions at the meeting
- A strengthened resolution on eliminating lead paint that includes promotion of national regulatory frameworks
- Continuation of work on providing information on chemicals in products including activities that seek to raise consumer awareness
- Addition of electronics to the Global Plan of Action and continued work including prioritizing reduction of exposure by eliminating or substituting the hazardous substances of concern. Note that many countries base their implementation of SAICM on activities contained in the Global Plan of Action so adding electronics (and nano) to the Plan helps elevate official work on the topic.
- Addition of nano to the Global Plan of Action and continued work includingapproaches to protect workers, the public and the environment from potential harm.
- Adopted a health sector strategy to increase the involvement of health professionals in chemical safety.
Some principle deficiencies
- Lack of incorporation of occupational health and safety approaches in the final documents, though the trade union delegation and IPEN (the main NGO network) expressed repeatedly in the plenary that in order to fulfil with SAICM 2020 objectives a more deciduous action in the workplace for information, prevention and substitution has to be made. ILO did not take the floor during the conference.
- The overall feeling that SAICM voluntary approach delivers as “slowly” as the conventions regulatory approaches with no legal force.
Trade unions participated actively in a lobby for supporting OHS mainstream, elimination of most hazardous pesticides, extension of QSP, recognition of EDRs as a global emerging policy issue among other issues.
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