Credit: UN Environment.
By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jul 10 2019 (IPS)
In case you were not aware or just do not remember: all you eat,
drink, breathe, wear, take as a medicine, the cosmetics you use,
the walls of your house, among others, is full of chemicals. And
all is really ALL.
For instance, in your bathroom, formaldehyde often sits in your
shampoo, microbeads in your toothpaste, phthalates in your nail
polish and antimicrobials in your soaps, while your medicine
cabinet contains a myriad of synthetic pharmaceuticals.
In your kitchen, a juicy strawberry may carry traces of up to 20
The size of the global chemical industry exceeded 5 trillion
dollars in 2017. It is projected to double by 2030. Consumption and
production are rapidly increasing in emerging economies.
And the perfumed bin-liners and air fresheners contain volatile
organic compounds that can make you nauseous and give you a
headache. And the list goes on…
Who tells all these and many other shocking facts is one of the
top world organisations dealing with the sources and dangers of
pollution and contamination – the UN Environment, which on 29
April 2019 released its
Global Chemicals Outlook.
Chemicals, chemicals, chemicals everywhere
See what Tanzanian microbiologist and environmental scientist
Joyce Msuya, the Deputy Executive Director of the
United Nations Environment Programme, said in her introduction
to this report:
“Chemicals are part of our everyday lives. From
pharmaceuticals to plant protection, innovations in chemistry can
improve our health, food security and much more. However, if poorly
used and managed, hazardous chemicals and waste threaten human
health and the environment.
“As the second Global Chemicals Outlook lays out, global
trends such as population dynamics, urbanisation and economic
growth are rapidly increasing chemical use, particularly in
“In 2017, the industry was worth more than 5 trillion dollars.
By 2030, this will double.
“Large quantities of hazardous chemicals and pollutants
continue to leak into the environment, contaminating food chains
and accumulating in our bodies, where they do serious damage.
“Estimates by the European Environment Agency suggest that 62
per cent of the volume of chemicals consumed in Europe in 2016 were
hazardous to health.
“The World Health Organization estimates the burden of disease
from selected chemicals at 1.6 million lives in 2016. The lives of
many more are negatively impacted…”
Referring to the agreed objective that, by 2020, chemicals will
be produced and used in ways that minimise significant adverse
effects on the environment and human health, Joyce Msuya warned
“At our current pace, we will not achieve the goal.”
The following are three
key findings included in the report, among many others.
One is that the size of the global chemical industry exceeded 5
trillion dollars in 2017. It is projected to double by 2030.
Consumption and production are rapidly increasing in emerging
economies. Global supply chains, and the trade of chemicals and
products, are becoming increasingly complex.
Another one is that, driven by global mega-trends, growth in
chemical-intensive industry sectors (e.g. construction,
agriculture, electronics) creates risks, but also opportunities to
advance sustainable consumption, production and product
And a third one is that hazardous chemicals and other pollutants
(e.g. plastic waste and pharmaceutical pollutants) continue to be
released in large quantities. They are ubiquitous in humans and the
environment and are accumulating in material stocks and products,
highlighting the need to avoid future legacies through sustainable
materials management and circular business models.
The Global Chemicals Outlook covers three broad inter-linked
areas building upon the findings of existing and concurrent
Production, trade, use and disposal of chemicals
Both the continuous growth trends and the changes in global
production, trade and use of chemicals point towards an increasing
chemical intensification of the economy.
This chemical intensification of the economy derives largely
from several factors, such as the increased volume and a shift of
production and use from highly industrialised countries to
developing countries and countries in economic transition.
Another factor is the penetration of chemical intensive products
into national economies through globalisation of sales and use.
Then there are the increased chemical emissions resulting from
major economic development sectors.
According to the report, products of the chemical industry that
are increasingly replacing natural materials in both industrial and
Thus, petrochemical lubricants, coatings, adhesives, inks, dyes,
creams, gels, soaps, detergents, fragrances and plastics are
replacing conventional plant, animal and ceramic based
Industries and research institutions which are increasingly
developing sophisticated and novel nano-scale chemicals and
synthetic halogenated compounds that are creating new functions
such as durable, non-stick, stain resistant, fire retardant,
water-resistant, non-corrosive surfaces, and metallic, conductive
compounds that are central to integrated circuits used in cars,
cell phones, and computers.
Penetration of chemical intensive products
The Global Outlook also informs that many countries are
primarily importers of chemicals and are not significant producers.
Agricultural chemicals and pesticides used in farming were among
the first synthetic chemicals to be actively exported to developing
Today, as consumption of a wide range of products increases over
time, these products themselves become a significant vehicle
increasing the presence of chemicals in developing and transition
economies, the report explains, adding the following
- These include liquid chemical personal care products for sale
directly to consumers; paints, adhesives and lubricants; as well as
chemically complex articles ranging from textiles and electronics,
to building materials and toys. Emissions from products pose
different management challenges from those associated with
manufacturing, as they are diffused throughout the economy,
rather than being concentrated at manufacturing facilities.
- Trade in articles has been identified as a significant driver
of global transport of lead, cadmium, mercury and brominated flame
- It is often the case that electrical and electronic equipment,
which contain hazardous or toxic substances, are purchased in
developed countries before being disposed of or recycled in unsafe
and unprotected conditions in developing states or countries with
economies in transition.
- Products such as cell phones and laptops are being purchased
and used in regions of the world recently thought to be too
- Increasing consumer demand for electrical/electronic goods and
materials, along with rapid technology change and the high
obsolescence rate of these items have led to the increasing
generation of large quantities of obsolete and near end of life
- These trends contribute to global electronic waste generation
estimated at 40 million tons per year.
Chemical contamination and waste associated with industrial
sectors of importance in developing countries include: pesticides
from agricultural runoff; heavy metals associated with cement
production; dioxin associated with electronics recycling; mercury
and other heavy metals associated with mining and coal combustion,
explains the Global Outlook.
They also include: butyl tins, heavy metals, and asbestos
released during ship breaking; heavy metals associated with
tanneries; mutagenic dyes, heavy metals and other pollutants
associated with textile production; toxic metals, solvents,
polymers, and flame retardants used in electronics manufacturing,
and the direct exposure resulting from the long range transport
of many chemicals through environmental media that deliver chemical
pollutants which originate from sources thousands of kilometres
Credit: UN Environment.
Health and environmental effects
According to the report:
- Chemicals released to the air can act as air pollutants
as well as greenhouse gases and ozone depleters and contribute to
acid rain formation.
- Chemicals can contaminate water resources through direct
discharges to bodies of water, or via deposition of air
contaminants to water. This contamination can have adverse effects
on aquatic organisms, including fish, and on the availability of
water resources for drinking, bathing, and other activities.
- It is common for soil pollution to be a direct result of
atmospheric deposition, dumping of waste, spills from industrial or
waste facilities, mining activities, contaminated water, or
- Persistent and bio-accumulative chemicals are found as
widespread contaminants in wildlife, especially those that
are high in the food chain. Some of these chemicals cause
cancers, immune system dysfunction, and reproductive disorders in
- In some countries, the runoff of pesticides and fertilisers
from agricultural fields or the use of chemicals in mining in
neighbouring countries, may leach into ground water, or run
into estuaries shared across national boundaries.
Fisheries, an important source of protein and of
economic value for populations around the world, can be severely
affected by chemicals. Persistent organic pollutants can accumulate
in fish, especially those high in the food chain. As a result, the
value of this otherwise excellent protein source is diminished or
Exposure to toxic chemicals can cause or contribute to a
broad range of health outcomes. These include eye, skin, and
respiratory irritation; damage to organs such as the brain, lungs,
liver or kidneys; damage to the immune, respiratory,
cardiovascular, nervous, reproductive or endocrine systems; and
birth defects and chronic diseases, such as cancer, asthma, or
Workers in industries using chemicals are especially
vulnerable through exposure to toxic chemicals and related health
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
In spite of these and other immense negative impacts on health
and the environment, the more than 400 scientists and experts
around the world, who worked over three long years to prepare the
Global Chemicals Outlook, underscore that the goal to minimise
adverse impacts of chemicals and waste will not be achieved by
“Solutions exist,” the 400 world experts emphasise, “but
more ambitious worldwide action by all stakeholders is urgently
Today’s Menu: Pesticide Salad, Leaded Fish with Plastic, Chemical
Fruit appeared first on Inter
Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Today’s Menu: Pesticide Salad, Leaded Fish with Plastic, Chemical Fruit