Impact of Hazardous Chemical


    In News

    An estimate by WHO stated that the deaths by exposure to hazardous chemicals increased 29% between 2016 and 2019.


    • The estimates were released by WHO during the Ministerial Dialogue held at the Berlin Forum on Chemicals and Sustainability: Ambition and Action towards 2030.

    Hazardous Chemicals

    • A hazardous chemical is a chemical that has properties with the potential to do harm to human or animal health, the environment, or capable of damaging property.
    • The term covers, among other things: Chemical dust, Chemical vapours, Chemical smoke, Chemical fumes, Chemical mixtures, Solvents, Detergents, Acids, Alkali, Petroleum, Paints
    • Hazardous chemicals are categorized as follows:
      • Flammable or explosive (e.g. petroleum, TNT, plastic explosives)
      • Irritating or corrosive to skin, lungs, and eyes (e.g. acids, alkali, paints, fumes)
      • Toxic chemicals (e.g. carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, cyanide)

    Key Findings of WHO

    • Deaths: 
      • Deaths due to exposure to hazardous chemicals worldwide rose 29 per cent in 2019 from what they were in 2016, according to the latest estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO).
      • Two million people died due to exposure to hazardous chemicals in 2019, compared to 1.56 million in 2016, according to the global health body. 
      • Preventable Deaths:
        • Most deaths due to exposure to hazardous chemicals are preventable, according to the WHO. 
        • They can be prevented by reducing or removing chemical exposure.  
      • Unintentional Exposure: 
        • Between 4,270 and 5,400 people died every day due to unintentional exposure to chemicals, according to the figures. 
        • Children and young adults were particularly affected by unintentional poisoning from hazardous chemicals.
    • Chemical presence in Environment:
      • Hazardous chemicals are present in the air, in consumer products, at the workplace, in water, or in the soil. 
      • They can cause several diseases including mental, behavioural and neurological disorders, cataracts, or asthma.
    • Need of Regulation: The data reiterate the need for regulation and effective governance of chemicals. 
    • Lead Pollution:
      • In 2020, Unicef too had raised concerns on the impact of lead pollution on the health of children in its report The Toxic Truth. 
      • At least 1 in 3 children — up to approximately 800 million globally — have blood lead levels at or above 5 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL), Unicef had said in the report.
      • Lead exposure causes: 
        • cardiovascular diseases (CVD), 
        • chronic kidney diseases 
        • idiopathic intellectual disability,
      • Death by exposure to lead: The deaths due to lead exposure have also increased by a disturbing 67 per cent since 2016. 
      • Uses of Lead that cause harm: Lead is added to paints for various reasons, including enhancing the colour, reducing corrosion and decreasing the drying time.
      • Global status in curbing its use:
        • The world is lagging behind in controlling lead use. Just 41 per cent of countries including India have legally binding controls on the production, import, sale and use of lead paints. 
        • At least 17 African countries do not have legally binding control on lead paint use.
      • Disability-adjusted life-years lost due to Lead:
        • There has been a 56 per cent increase in disability-adjusted life-years lost due to exposure to lead since 2016. 
        • In 2019, 21.6 million disability-adjusted life-years were lost due to lead exposure.

    Findings Related to India

    • India must take note of this as the country’s national chemical policy has been pending since 2012. 
    • There is a need for a comprehensive law in the country to regulate chemical use, production and safety.

    Disability-adjusted life-years lost

    • In 2019, 53 million disability-adjusted life-years were lost. 
    • This is an increase of over 19 per cent since 2016. 
    • Most were lost due to the unregulated use of chemicals.


    (Image Courtesy: DTE)

    Way Ahead

    • There are many international chemical conventions restricting or even banning the production, use and trade of certain hazardous chemicals for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment.
    • The countries need to adhere to these conventions in letter and spirit to prevent hazardous chemicals.
    • While most of these deaths are preventable, countries still don’t have enough legal control over the use of hazardous compounds such as lead.
    • The government policies must include things such as:
      • Reducing the number of people exposed to hazardous chemicals.
      • Reducing the duration and frequency of exposure to hazardous chemicals.
      • Reducing the number of hazardous chemicals kept on-site through inventory reduction methods such as just in time supply.


    (Image Courtesy: Storemasta )

    International Conventions on hazardous chemicals 

    • Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
      • It is an international treaty to protect human health and the environment from the harmful effects of POPs. 
      • The Convention was adopted on 22 May 2001 in Stockholm, Sweden and entered into force on 17 May 2004.
      • More than 170 countries have ratified the Convention up to date. 
      • The Convention requires that Parties to the convention take measures to eliminate or restrict the production and use of certain hazardous chemicals on the List of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the Convention.
    • Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade
      • It is an international treaty promoting shared responsibility between exporting and importing countries in protecting human health and the environment from certain banned or restricted hazardous chemicals and pesticides and providing a mechanism for the exchange of information about potentially hazardous chemicals.
      • The Convention was adopted on 10 September 1998 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands and entered into force on 24 February 2004. 
      • More than 150 countries have ratified the convention.
    • Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal
      • IT is an international treaty aiming to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes. 
      • The convention was adopted on 22 March 1989 and entered into force on 5 May 1992. 
      • More than 180 states have become parties to the Convention.
      • The Convention covers a wide range of wastes defined as “hazardous wastes” based on their origin and/or composition and their characteristics, as well as two types of wastes defined as “other wastes” – household waste and incinerator ash.
    • Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer
      • The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (a protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer) is an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances that are responsible for ozone depletion. 
      • It was agreed on September 16, 1987, and entered into force on January 1, 1989.
      • Every country in the world is a party to the Protocol. 
      • The Montreal Protocol has successfully phased out or is in the process of phasing out several key classes of ozone-depleting substances, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).
    • Minamata Convention on Mercury
      • It is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury and its compounds. 
      • It was agreed at the fifth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Geneva, Switzerland in 2013. 
      • More than 140 countries have ratified the Convention.
      • The major highlights of the Minamata Convention on Mercury include a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing mines and mercury-added products, as well as control measures on air emissions. 
    • Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
      • It is an arms control treaty prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons by States Parties. 
      • It is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and entered into force in 1997.
      • The Convention also requires each State Party to adopt the necessary measures to ensure that toxic chemicals and their precursors are only developed, produced, retained, transferred, or used within its territory for purposes not prohibited under this Convention.
    • The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances
      • The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988 entered into force on November 11, 1990. 
      • This Convention provides comprehensive measures against drug trafficking, including provisions against money laundering and the diversion of precursor chemicals.
    • ILO’s Chemicals Convention concerning Safety in the Use of Chemicals at Work
      • The Chemicals Convention concerning Safety in the Use of Chemicals at Work was promulgated by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1990 and entered into force on 04 Nov 1993. 
      • The Convention protects workers from the harmful effects of chemicals in the workplace.
      • Under the Convention, suppliers of hazardous chemicals are required to identify the hazards of their chemicals and prepare safety data sheets and labels. 
      • Employers are required to label all chemicals used at the workplace and make safety data sheets available to workers.
      • In addition to that, the Convention requires employers to ensure that workers are not exposed to chemicals to an extent that exceeds exposure limits.
    • Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM)
      • It is a policy framework to promote chemical safety around the world. SAICM has as its overall objective the achievement of the sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle so that, by 2020, chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on human health and the environment.
      • Unlike other conventions, SAICM does not restrict or ban specific types of hazardous chemicals. 
      • It is a platform for national authorities to exchange info on chemical management policies for the purpose of achieving the sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle in the world.

    Sources: DTE