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Sound Chemicals Management: Relieving the Burden on Public Health

08/10/2008

A High Level segment (HLS) on the theme Sound Chemicals Management: Relieving the Burden on Public Health is planned for 30-31 October 2008 in FAO Headquarters in Rome, Italy.

The President to the Fourth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties Andrea Repetti will open the High level segment on the 30th October 2008, at 10.00 in the plenary room. She will be followed by the opening remarks of Peter Kenmore, Executive Secretary of the Rotterdam Convention, James Butler, Deputy Director General of FAO and a Representative of UNEP.

More than 50 Ministers will deliver their statements during the two days of HLS and they will participate to panel discussions that will address the main theme together with a list of associated issues. The challenge is how the implementation of the Rotterdam Convention might contribute to enhancing sound chemicals management and reducing the real costs on public health in countries.

Focus on the theme
Properly managed chemicals contribute to the quantity, variety and quality of food available, enhance people’s health and well-being, reduce the incidence of disease as a result of better hygiene and through vector control and make many other significant positive contributions to our daily lives.

At the same time, improperly managed chemicals can and do cause substantial damage to human health and the environment. Direct impacts are most readily observed in the short term and include poisoning of workers and of wildlife. Longer-term impacts that may be less readily observed include contamination of food and drinking water, degradation of the environment, loss of soil fertility and the resultant decrease in food production, together with human health effects such as cancer or birth defects, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, asthma, allergies and reproductive and nervous system development disorders.

The sound management of chemicals calls for a life-cycle or holistic approach to national decision-making on chemicals that takes into consideration the associated risks from production through storage, use and disposal.

Many countries lack a life-cycle approach to chemicals management in which the full or real costs of the adverse impacts of chemical are taken into account. For example, the direct adverse impacts of chemicals on public health include lost productivity and income owing to ill health and the need to care for sick children or other family members.

Particularly worrying is exposure to chemicals that accumulate in the environment, causing particular harm to the physical and intellectual development of children and preventing them from realizing their full potential in society.

Environmental contamination and resulting habitat loss or impoverishment can also have serious negative impacts on the potential for economic development, including in areas such as tourism, timber and fishing industries, in addition to affecting the emotional well-being of a country’s people. Taken together, these direct and indirect effects can have significant adverse impacts on overall public health.

As part of the World Summit on Sustainable Development plan of action, countries agreed to a common objective that was to “achieve by 2020 that chemicals are used and produced in ways that lead to the minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment...” To attain this objective, countries need to develop effective chemicals management infrastructures. The Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions, together with the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management, represent a set of tools to assist countries in taking a life-cycle approach to the sound management of chemicals.

For further information on COP 4, please visit the Rotterdam Convention website at: www.pic.int.

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