May 16, 2009

Chemical Manufactures Ordered to Step Up Safety

Chemical manufacturers and governments reach an agreement on Friday to increase efforts to use more safety with chemicals, including paint containing lead to microscopic material.

However, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) stated that unless the industry and governments allots more funds for the goal of the 2020 deadline, it is most likely not going to happen.

The conference was housed at the governing group of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), a subgroup of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

"The conference considered that more efforts were necessary to achieve the goal of minimizing the risks of chemicals to human health and the environment," Matthew Gubb, co-coordinator of the SAICM secretariat.

The conference settled on five "emerging issues," nanotechnology, which are harmful if inhaled; chemicals for daily usage; electronic waste, and lead in paint.

The fifth issue, tagged on at the end of the conference, deals with perfluorinated chemicals, utilized for making surfaces resistant to heat and corrosion, but is poisonous, build up in the body and extend long distances.

Juergen Hambrecht, chief executive of BASF, the world's biggest manufacturer of chemicals, outlined the commitment that the chemicals industry has for working with groups like SAICM.

"We in the chemical industry truly believe that the global chemical industry is part of the solution for sustainable society and for a better environment," Hambrecht said in a statement.

The industry voiced concerns about the timeline of cleaning up chemical waste and ensuring safety in new products, but wants to be realistic about what goals could be reached, he said.

Commands to abolish the use of chemicals under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, has to understand that some substances are vital to the industry, Hambrecht said.

One example is phosgene, manufactured for chemical weapons in World War One, and also part of pesticides at a plant in Bhopal, India, where a 1984 leaked resulted in one of the world's nastiest industrial disasters, taking thousands of lives.

However, Hambrecht insisted that it is also a main ingredient in the majority of upholstery.

"Phosgene is a major building block. We cannot stop producing phosgene but what we need to do is handle it absolutely safely," he said.

Mariann Lloyd-Smith, co-chair of the International POPs Elimination Network IPEN, wants the industry to give larger financial contributions.

"We would expect dollars on the table," she told the briefing. "There is a legacy that needs money to clean up ... we have thousands of little Bhopals all over this world."

Without funds there will most likely be little development on the issues, she said, outlining the need for more investment and more research about chemicals.


On The Net: