UN forum calls for global panel to warn against dangerous chemicals

11 May 2009

A key speaker at a United Nations conference on managing the health risks posed by everyday chemicals has called for the world body to create an international panel of experts to help protect the public against the poisonous substances.

It has become increasingly urgent to manage chemicals in household products safely to protect children and future generations, stressed former Swedish Environment Ambassador Viveka Bohn at the opening of the second session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM2).

Although Governments and industry are responsible for tackling the health and environment problems caused by chemicals, Ms. Bohn said that scientists have a “key role to play in conveying and explaining to the public and to the politicians, clearly and objectively, the latest knowledge on the effects of exposure to chemicals, especially the ‘cocktail’ effect.”

There is wide agreement that much more research is needed on the unpredictable impact of several chemicals found together, known as the cocktail effect.

In her address to the five-day conference in Geneva, read by her daughter Maria, Ms. Bohn pushed for the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to pool scientific research on chemicals and to establish an international chemicals panel similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In a related development, governments around the world banned nine chemicals on Saturday, adding them on the list of 12 substances already prohibited under the 2001 Stockholm Convention.

The Stockholm Convention targets hazardous pesticides and industrial chemicals that can kill people, damage the nervous and immune systems, cause cancer and reproductive disorders and interfere with normal infant and child development.

“We now have a clear signal that Governments around the world take seriously the risks posed by such toxic chemicals,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

Adding the new chemicals to the Convention – administered by UNEP and signed by 152 governments – signals a shift reflecting “international concern on the need to reduce and eventually eliminate such substances throughout the global community,” added Mr. Steiner.

The week-long Conference of the Parties (COP), held in Geneva from 4 to 9 May, also reached a decision on the endorsement of the DDT global partnership. While DDT is targeted for eventual elimination, the Convention recognizes that some countries will continue to use this pesticide to protect their citizens from malaria and other diseases.


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