0156 GMT April 24, 2019
The second Global Chemicals Outlook, which was released in Nairobi on Monday, said the world will not meet international commitments to reduce chemical hazards and halt pollution by 2020. In fact, the study by the United Nations Environment Program found that the industry has never been more dominant nor has humanity’s dependence on chemicals ever been as great, theguardian.com wrote.
“When you consider existing pollution, plus the projected growth of the industry, the trends are a cause for significant concern,” said Achim Halpaap, who led the 400 scientists involved in the study.
He said the fastest growth was in construction materials, electronics, textiles and lead batteries. More and more additives are also being used to make plastics smoother or more durable.
Depending on the chemical and degree of exposure, the risks can include cancer, chronic kidney disease and congenital anomalies. The World Health Organization estimated that the burden of disease was 1.6 million lives in 2016. Halpaap said this was likely to be an underestimate. In addition to the human health dangers, he said chemicals also affect pollinators and coral reefs.
Global chemical production has almost doubled since 2000 and is now — if the pharmaceutical business is taken into account — the world’s second largest industry, the report noted.
This is expected to continue for at least the next decade owing to massive increases in the expanding economies of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. By 2030, the industry is projected to almost double again from 2017 levels to hit $6.6 tons (£5 tons) in sales; China is forecast to account for 49.9 percent of the world market.
Despite the negative effects, humanity is increasingly dependent on synthetic chemicals. According to the UN, output will grow seven times faster than the global population between 1990 and 2030.
At the Johannesburg Earth Summit in 2002, governments agreed to significantly reduce chemical pollution by 2020, but the report showed the world is far off course from that and the other sustainable development goal of reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from chemical pollution by 2030. “The 2020 goal will not be achieved,” the report stated bluntly.
There have been advances in some areas. National authorities have raised concern about a number of products, including formaldehyde in shampoo, microbeads in toothpaste, phthalates in food packaging, and flame retardants in many household goods. Numerous conventions have been signed and regulations put in place to minimize risks but the industry continues its relentless expansion.
In part, this is a sign of the increasing sophistication of consumer products. Some electronic consumer items, such as laptops and mobile phones, can include hundreds of different chemical products. But they are also present in countless other everyday items. The report gives the example of an office chair, which contains flame retardants on the foam cushion, rubber additives in the rollers, chromium surface coating, plastic additives on the back and varnish on any wooden parts. But environmentalists say the long-term risks to the majority outweigh the short-term gains for a minority.
Of the 345 million tons of chemicals consumed in the European Union, 62 percent posed a health hazard, according to a study by the EU statistical organization last year.
“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,” wrote Joyce Msuya, the acting head of the UN Environment Programme.
“Considering the expansion of the market, and the associated increase in contamination, we cannot continue to gamble with our health.”
The study — the first for five years — offers only broadbrush solutions, echoing the mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle that has been largely ignored for decades. It also calls for greater use of sustainable materials and better education of scientists about the dangers. More specific measures will be debated at a conference in Uruguay next month.