Even chemicals subject to extensive regulations can become dangerous if obtained through illegal distributionBlog
HEJSupport is among the lead authors, advisory board members and reviewers of UNEP new reprot on the illegal trade in chemicals.
Chemicals are ubiquitous in both the natural and built environments, and are a necessity for daily life. However, certain chemicals also pose risks which threaten the maintenance of environmental and human health. For many of these compounds, risks are mitigated through regulation. But even chemicals subject to extensive regulations can become dangerous when they are obtained from unmonitored suppliers through illegal distribution. To address this issue, earlier this month the UN Environment Programme released its first report on ‘The Illegal Trade in Chemicals’.
The global chemical trade is regulated by a myriad of processes, agreements, and organizations, including legislation, policy frameworks, and multilateral environmental agreements such as the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. However, these efforts are not comprehensive in their management of dangerous chemicals, as many potentially toxic chemicals continue to exist unregulated. Additionally, a plethora of obstacles to implementation and enforcement of these agreements and initiatives exist even for chemicals which have been identified as global priorities for regulation. These include variances in national legislation as well as the limited scope of conventions. Unfortunately, globalization has accelerated the production and procurement of illegal chemicals emerging on international markets.
While toxic chemicals may negatively affect the health of all people, certain populations are particularly vulnerable to the potentially adverse impacts resulting from unregulated chemicals. These include groups such as undocumented workers, who may be disproportionately exposed to these unsafe substances, and women, who tend to be more vulnerable to biological disruption.
The illegal chemical trade has implications not only for human and environmental health, but also for the prosperity of regulated business and national economies throughout the world. For instance, it has been estimated that approximately 1.3 billion euros are diverted each year from the European Union pesticide industry to the counterfeit pesticide market. Since they are not regulated, many of these illegal pesticides have been found to be substandard.
Despite a significant number of challenges, the UN report proposes several tactics to address this global problem. National collaboration between industry, nongovernmental organizations, and other relevant stakeholders may be leveraged to encourage industry innovation and environmental responsibility. Interagency and international cooperation is encouraged to strengthen prevention and response efforts to the illegal chemical trade in order to compensate for regulatory shortcomings. Solutions which would incentivize the transition to and research on toxic-free, sustainable alternatives to these chemicals have been proposed. Improving data collection and sharing on these illegal activities must be ameliorated to support enforcement efforts. Finally, the important role of education cannot be overstated, as disseminating important health and safety information to both operators and consumers is essential to industry change.