18 March 2011

Citizens' Forum Pushes Government to Keep Toxic Chemicals Out of Products

A citizens’ forum today pressed the national government to implement health-based policies that will cause the removal of priority toxic chemicals in everyday products and their replacement with safer alternatives.

The forum organized by the EcoWaste Coalition, a toxic watchdog, sought drastic chemicals policy reforms amid growing concerns on the impacts of certain chemicals found in common consumer products that could affect the ability of children to develop and reach their full potentials.

Speaking at the forum, visiting US-based public health expert Dr. Peter Orris spoke about the need to protect the most vulnerable sub-populations from being exposed to the most hazardous chemicals that can cause birth defects, impair brain development, disrupt hormonal functions and trigger other serious ailments.

“Through blood testing of humans,” said Dr. Orris who also represents the World Federation of Public Health Associations, “we now know that manmade chemicals in products, previously thought to be safe, make their way into our bodies. We are most concerned by indications that infants have higher levels than adults of chemicals that we know impact on their developing brains."

Among the chemicals of concern that Dr. Orris, a professor of internal and preventive medicine particularly environmental and occupational health sciences, has identified in his talk include lead, mercury, phthalates, bisphenol A, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardant chemicals), perfluorinated compounds (water, stain and grease repellant chemicals), organochlorine pesticides and other persistent toxic chemicals.

“Although we do not know what the effects of the low blood levels we have indentified,” added Dr. Orris, “we do know that they are not normal and have no place within the maturing child."

For his part, Roy Alvarez, President of the EcoWaste Coalition, said: “We urge the Environment Department and other agencies to come up with strong health-based regulations against known toxic chemicals, starting with the Priority Chemicals List (PCL) that the Department itself has identified as posing unreasonable risk to public health, workplace and the environment.”

The PCL is composed of 48 chemicals out of which only five have Chemical Control Orders (i.e., 1. polychlorinated biphenyls, 2. mercury and mercury compounds, 3. asbestos, 4. cyanide and cyanide compounds, and 5. ozone depleting substances) that set gradual phase-out plan, restrict or limit the use or require substitution of the targeted chemicals.

Other chemicals in the PCL include arsenic, benzene, beryllium, cadmium, chlorinated ethers, chloroform, chromium, halons, lead, selenium, trichloroethane, vinyl chloride, etc.

Towards the adoption of health-based policies on chemicals management, the EcoWaste Coalition has put forward the following demands:

1.Prohibit the use of chemicals in products that have been linked to cancer, reproductive defects, endocrine disruptions and learning and developmental disabilities, particularly for products intended for children under the age of 12.

2. Hold manufacturers responsible for demonstrating the chemical safety of their products before these are sold in the market, including the full disclosure of their hazardous properties and potential effects to human health and the environment.

3. Enforce mandatory product labelling of chemical ingredients to guarantee the consumers’ “right to know” and right to make an informed choice, including requiring the inclusion of both graphic and narrative health warning in the product information.

“These reforms, we believe, will form part of the national contribution to achieve the 2020 goal for chemical safety under SAICM,” the EcoWaste Coalition said.

SAICM stands for the “Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management,” which is a policy framework for global action on chemical hazards.

The “2020 goal” refers to the global commitment "to achieve the sound management of chemicals throughout their life-cycle so that, by 2020, chemicals are produced and used in ways that lead to the minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment."

The “2020 goal” was first adopted in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and reaffirmed in 2006 at the International Conference on Chemicals Management in Dubai.

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