5 December 2016, Quezon City, Philippines—Representatives from government, civil society and the academe from nine Asian countries gathered in the Philippines to discuss the innate relationship between chemicals pollution and human rights during a workshop entitled “Mainstreaming the Rights-based Approach to the Sound Management of Chemicals and Wastes in the Asian Region.”
The poor management of toxic chemicals, from its production to disposal, violates human rights and governments must do more to ensure the public is protected from harm. This call was made by the environmental justice group BAN Toxics during a regional meeting on chemicals and human rights held from 5-7 December 2016 discussing the need to place human rights at the center of sound chemicals management.
“The unsound management of chemicals can infringe on the most basic human rights in many ways, with effects that are widespread and usually irreversible,” said Atty. Richard Gutierrez, CEO of BAN Toxics. “But these infringements are still commonly taken for granted. Many everyday products we use contain dangerous chemicals that are not restricted or controlled, and usually information about such chemicals is not fully disclosed. This indicates a clear need to approach chemicals from a human rights perspective.”
The improper production, use and release of chemicals and wastes lead to environmental pollution or the contamination of air, water and soil, and is considered to be the largest cause of disease and death in developing countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 8.9 million deaths can be attributed to air, water and soil pollution in 2012—94% of which occurred in developing countries. The WHO found that in 2012, low- and middle-income countries in Southeast Asia also had the largest environment-related disease burden. In Metro Manila alone, 4,000 Filipinos die each year because of air pollution, and an additional 90,000 suffer from severe chronic bronchitis.
With global chemical output continuing to grow, developed countries have established laws banning the production or inflow of certain harmful chemicals. However, many developing countries have not developed similar laws and have thus become end recipients of these toxic chemicals. Despite having limited capacity to manage the disposal of these chemicals, developing countries, especially in Asia, now have to cope with the toxic burden brought by these chemicals.
The increasing volume of chemicals being manufactured, most of which are untested, is also a significant cause of concern. And the fact that the poor and marginalized, particularly women and children, are the ones who bear the heaviest burden puts an additional strain on those who are least able to cope and defend their rights.
“The rampant use of pesticides in food and agriculture is a clear example of how toxic chemicals considered as ‘acceptable,’ puts millions at risk,” said Deeppa Ravindran, a delegate to the workshop and Program Manager at Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific. “The world uses nearly 2.3 million tons of chemical pesticides every year, about 50 times more than it did in the 1950s. Children are the most affected and suffer far greater risks of poisoning as well as physical and intellectual abnormalities due to harmful chemicals.”
“Approaching chemicals from a human rights perspective puts the safety of people and environment at the forefront. Governments must do more to strengthen policies and systems to properly manage chemicals and ensure the most harmful chemicals are banned and eliminated,” concluded Gutierrez.
The workshop was organized by BAN Toxics with support from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC).
BAN Toxics is an independent non-government environmental organization that works for the advancement of environmental justice, health and sustainable development in the area of chemicals and wastes, with a special focus on women, children and other marginalized sectors.