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- International Workshop on Designing Take Back Systems for E-waste on 11th December 2012
- North Eastern Regional Meeting on Dioxin and Furans on 19 December 2012, Guwahati
- Public Lecture on "The Smog in Delhi : Causes & Concerns"
- Toxics Link and CPCB announce a two-day National Meeting on CFL waste management in India: 13-14 December 2012, New Delhi
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Chemicals and Health
Man-made chemicals have become integral to our lives in the recent times. Nearly every manufactured product contains one or more of the thousands of manufactured chemicals or their derivatives. A range of consumer and food products, agrochemicals, electrical and electronic equipments, pharmaceuticals, petrochemical and household fuels, infrastructure and building materials, automobile, furniture, laboratory materials, and sanitary stuffs – the list seems almost endless with over 140 thousand chemicals on the market and the sector contributing over 5% to the global GDP. The chemicals intrusion into our lives is showcased in the fact that since 1970’s this sector has grown over ten folds.
We carry them all along is some form, all the time.
Synthetic chemicals although have touched upon each and every aspect of our lives making it much smoother for us, there are growing concerns and evidences about their unintended interference and harmful impacts on environment and living beings. WHO estimates that more than 25 per cent of the global burden of disease is linked to environmental factors, including toxic chemical exposures. There are conclusive evidences to prove that toxic chemicals are capable of inflicting considerable damage to human beings in terms of life lost due to premature death and disability. It has been also found that many of the chemicals behave as low poisons and could even cause damage to our genetic makeup.
Many of the currently used chemicals and compounds (such as heavy metals lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium; a range of pesticides, plasticizers, preservatives, flame retardants, industrial salts etc.) have been deemed carcinogens, neurotoxics, and even endocrine disruptors.
Growing scientific evidences from across the globe prove that children and women are the most vulnerable. Such population in the poor economies is the most impacted ones.
For the above reasons, the world community has started looking at the chemical sector in a renewed way, essentially putting ‘safety and management’ aspect as top policy override. In the western world, especially in the US, Rachel Carson’s (an American biologist) discovery about DDT’s horrendous ecological and health impact (‘Silent Spring’, 1962) changed the landscape of scientific thinking about toxic synthetic chemicals. This discovery not only led the US banning of DDT in 1972 but in fact formed the base for action by other nations of the western world and the United Nation. The UN Convention on Environment, Stockholm, 1972, considered to be the first global initiative to address environment / toxic management in its declaration (Principle 6) stated “The discharge of toxic substances or of other substances and the release of heat, in such quantities or concentrations as to exceed the capacity of the environment to render them harmless, must be halted in order to ensure that serious or irreversible damage is not inflicted upon ecosystems. The just struggle of the peoples of ill countries against pollution should be supported”
In the last 40 years since the 1972 UN global conclave at Stockholm, the paradigm of toxic substance management has transformed (Box 3) from ‘safety’ to ‘stewardship’. Johannesburg Earth Summit (2002) brought renewed focus on chemicals safety and management where the world leaders committed (Paragraph 23 of the Johannesburg Plan) “….to sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle and of hazardous wastes for sustainable development as well as for the protection of human health and the environment, inter alia, aiming 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, using transparent science-based risk assessment procedures and science-based risk management procedures…”
Subsequently, The Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) endorsed Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) in its decision SS.IX/1 (“The sound management of chemicals is essential if we are to achieve sustainable development, including the eradication of poverty and disease, the improvement of human health and the environment and the elevation of the standard of living in countries at all levels of development”) taken at its ninth special session, held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates from 7 to 9 February 2006.
Although a voluntary process, SACIM is one of the contemporary and multi-nation policy framework to promote chemical safety around the world. The framework is entirely based on the WSSD declaration (Johannesburg 2002) that by 2020 chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on human health and the environment.
Clearly, the world community has shown intentions to safeguard human health and environment. However, majority of nations, most prominently the developing and poor economies are grappling with want of understanding, capacity creation and resource allocation. The focus is yet to seep into the minds and the systems.
India as one of the future hub of chemical production and consumption is facing with all those problems mentioned above. There are challenges of serving an already populous country thus paving way for almost unmindful production and use of chemicals. For example, even after critical evidences of pollution and health impact of chemical farming, India is yet to devise a systemic mechanism for reducing its dependence on use of chemicals in agriculture and allied activities. With markets driving the aspiration of people to improve their cumulative material welfare has given rise to all sorts of sub-standard products being used and also occupying the mindspace.
Largely poor industry standards coupled with weak regulatory regime and negligible public awareness poses many challenges before India vis-à-vis 2020 WSSD goal of sound management of toxic chemicals.
Toxics Link is one of the handful public interest entities in the region working on issue of chemicals safety and management. Our mission statement itself states – “Working together for environmental justice and freedom from toxics”…. Chemicals and health programme is one of our core programme area with the broad objectives to a) research, create contents and raise awareness about the dangers of toxic substances and compounds, used by us either directly or in manufacturing processes and products we use; b) do policy advocacy; c) suggest sustainable models; d) build network and assist stakeholders move towards safer alternatives and practices; and , e) help create a rights based society. The larger goal is to reduce the toxic chemicals burden on living beings and environment through improved policy and implementation framework, awareness creation and regular monitoring.
The team through its programme is also working on frontier policy issues such as Endocrine Disrupting substances (EDSs), Household pesticides and Chemicals Safety in Education. Some of the latest publications are in process :
- Report: Chemicals Safety and Management
- Report: Endocrine Disrupting Substance, an emerging policy issue
- Report: Household Pesticide, facts we must know
Key Work done
- First handbook on pesticides and health in India.
- Participation in POPs Convention and meetings
- First ever publication on POPs in india
- First fact-finding investigation into farmer’s death in Warangal.
- First review of the status and environmental health impacts of POPs in South Asia Region for the World Bank.
- Networking with other Civil society organizations and International organizations such as HCWH, IPEN, EEB on chemicals issues.
- Food Safety PIL in Indian Supreme Court (and campaign on Food Safety
- Successful coordination of activities under GEF supported Global POPs Project in South Asia, implemented by IPEN.
- Publication of report “Toxic Toys”, study on heavy metals contamination in pvc toys
- Campaign against lead in paints
- Published report on lead in house-hold dust
- Published report on Mercury contamination in fish
- Global study conducted for testing lead in paints (11 country study
- Participating organization of International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) and designated as South Asia Regional Hub to lead activities in the region.
- Analysis of lead in household decorative paints sold in South Asia
- Factsheet on DDT and its ineffectiveness in Indian context
- Report on mercury management in Compact Fluorescent Lamps in India
- Building South Asia programme on chemicals safety and management
- Indian government signing and ratifying the POPs treaty (Stockholm Convention 2001-2004/2006
- Contribution to the Food Safety bill -2006
- Participation in the National Chemicals Profile development.
- Contributing to plastic Waste management Rules – 1999/2003 and 2010 (Toxics link was in the committee)
- Toxics Link nominated South Asia Hub for IPEN, a global association of over 700 organization
- Toxics Link winning a lawsuit in the honorable Supreme Court on pesticides Hazard issue (against pesticides industry)
- Lead in paints a global concern, resolution passed in IFCS for removal of lead from paints
- Major Indian paint manufacturers phasing out lead from paints
- Draft lead in paint rules drafted by BIS (compared to global standards). The lead in paint campaign also spread to South Asian Countries some of which now have standards
- New Toy safety and import policy – under finalization by the central government
- BIS developing new standard protocol to test mercury dosing in CFLs
- Toxics Link working with State authorities on appropriate CFL disposal / mercury management policy and implementation mechanism.