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More ambitious worldwide action is urgently needed to protect health and the environment against adverse impacts of chemicals. This is the conclusion of the second United Nations Global Chemicals Outlook, presented during the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi this week [1].

HEAL has welcomed the UN report, as it underlines the need for urgent and global action if we are to protect current and future generations from toxic chemicals.

Global action on chemicals and safer alternatives must place health as the starting point and not as an afterthought. Business as usual is no longer an option”, says Genon K. Jensen, HEAL’s Executive Director. “Europe could and should lead the way towards a precautionary approach to achieve a non-toxic environment and prevent human exposure, a policy which has the potential to inspire worldwide action”.

Hazardous chemicals that are ubiquitous in humans and the environment continue to be released in large quantities, with increased health risks for the most vulnerable and the poorest. Around the world, a worker dies from toxic exposure in their workplace every 30 seconds [2]. While the size of the global chemical industry is estimated to double in the next 10 years, this situation could get even worse.

Coming April, countries from all corners of the world are scheduled to meet within the framework of the United Nations Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) [3], and they will discuss the future of global chemicals policies beyond 2020.

Lessons need to be drawn from the failure to reach the 2020 goal. The next SAICM meeting is a key opportunity for governments to show they are committed to finding a prompt and effective public health solution that goes beyond voluntary agreements, for instance through the mandatory adoption of national action plans and systems to hold industry legally and financially accountable for the impact of their products in each country is needed”, continues Genon K. Jensen.

Protecting our health and those of future generations is far from impossible [4]. Several chemicals of concern have started to be tackled in the European Union, including hormone-altering endocrine disruptors like Bisphenol A [5]. Europe can free its environment from toxic chemicals, if it starts defending its unique precautionary approach to legislating these substances.

Contact: Natacha Cingotti, Senior Policy Officer Health and Chemicals, natacha@env-health.org, tel.: +32 (0)2 234 36 45

Notes:

[1] https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/chemicals-waste/what-we-do/policy-and-governance/global-chemicals-outlook

[2] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/ToxicWastes/Pages/RightsWorkersToxicChemicalExposure.aspx

[3] Third meeting of the Open-ended Working Group – OEWG-3 – Montevideo, Uruguay, 2-4 April 2019, http://www.saicm.org/About/OEWG/OEWGmeetings/tabid/5984/language/en-US/Default.aspx

As an accredited stakeholder to the international chemical management forum SAICM, HEAL has been a long-time advocate for the need for the health sector to play a leading role in the fight against toxic chemicals, including through the implementation of the WHO roadmap on chemicals: http://bit.ly/2J4Ji2n // https://www.who.int/ipcs/saicm/roadmap/en/

[4] https://www.env-health.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/HEALs-vision-for-a-non-toxic-environment-strategy-EN.pdf

[5] https://www.env-health.org/glyphosate-future-generations-to-pay-the-price-of-reauthorisation-of-health-harming-herbicide/ // https://www.env-health.org/eu-finally-recognises-bisphenol-a-as-an-endocrine-disruptor-for-human-health/