Towards safer products for our environment and health

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This knowledge platform is a key element of the project Chemicals Without Concern, funded by GEF, implemented by UNEP, and executed by SAICM Secretariat. It offers a repository of resources, facilitates networking among people working for a safer environment, and provides information on articles and events on chemical-related topics.

Exposure to chemicals can cause or contribute to a broad range of negative environmental and health outcomes, including irreversible environmental degradation and death. Most common health problems include eye, skin, and respiratory irritation; damage to organs such as the brain, lungs, liver or kidneys; damage to the immune, respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, reproductive or endocrine systems; and birth defects and chronic diseases, such as cancer, asthma, or diabetes.

Chemicals released to air as a result of unsound management can act as local air pollutants, greenhouse gases, or ozone depleters and contribute to acid or toxic rain. Others can act as water pollutants with adverse effects on ecosystems, wildlife and aquatic organisms, and on the availability of water resources for drinking, bathing, and other activities. Soil contamination impacts include loss of agricultural productivity, contamination of food crops, toxicity to soil microorganisms and land degradation. In all cases, humans are exposed to this contamination through air, water or food intake, or through physical contact with contaminated air, water, soil or dust.

Global contaminants such as POPs or mercury are regulated by Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), namely the Stockholm and Minamata Conventions respectively. A number of additional ‘Emerging Policy Issues’ (EPIs) have been nominated for voluntary, cooperative risk reduction actions by countries through the Strategic Approach for International Chemicals Management (SAICM). SAICM is a voluntary platform for stakeholders to work together and that it contributes in particular to achieving SDG target 12.4 (By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment).  

Through contamination of global water bodies and globalised value chains, the environmental problems are globally distributed. The SAICM EPIs include: Lead in Paint; Chemicals in Products; Hazardous Substances in the Life Cycle of Electronics and Electronic Products (HSLEEP); highly hazardous pesticides HHPs); Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs); Environmentally Persistent Pharmaceutical Products (EPPPs); and Nanotechnologies and manufactured nanomaterials (nano). Each EPI presents particular environmental and health problems.