Improving national chemicals management capabilities

Strengthening national capacities for management of chemicals
Most developed countries have at least some systems in place for the environmentally sound management of chemicals. In many developing co un tries and countries in transition, such systems are very limited or non-existent. The establishment and strengthening of such systems and institutions at the national and regional level in the developing world is needed.

As of the early 1990s, the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) had established effluent guidelines for 128 chemicals, had prepared health assessments on fewer than 100 chemicals, and had issued air emission standards for fewer than 10 chemicals. This is the result of 30 years of intense effort. EPA's scientific reassessment of the hazards of just one organochlorine chemical -- dioxin -- has been underway since 1991 and is still in draft form. Even if EPA were to assign vast new resources to the task of evaluating the hazards of chlorinated chemicals, it would take many, many centuries to complete the task.

This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. Agenda 21 recommends that, in strengthening national capacities for management of chemicals, including development and implementation of, and adaptation to, new classification and labelling systems, the creation of trade barriers should be avoided and the limited capacities and resources of a large number of countries, particularly developing countries, for implementing such systems, should be taken into full account.

Concern with insufficient control of chemicals prompted UNEP, in 1987, to adopt the [London Guidelines for the Exchange of Information on Chemicals in International Trade]. UNEP has developed training and technical assistance programmes in cooperation with other international organizations for the application of its legislative guidance documents on chemicals management in developing countries. The United Nations RTDG provide a sound basis for development of national legislation on the transport of dangerous chemicals. International policies and standards regarding the safety of chemicals at work are formulated by ILO. Standards are defined in conventions and recommendations which provide a model and stimulus for national legislation and practice in member states. ILO helps developing countries to establish or strengthen national frameworks so that they can eventually ratify ILO instruments. In the context of its new "active partnership policy", ILO is establishing, in key regions, multidisciplinary teams of ILO experts to assist in evaluating national occupational health and safety needs, including chemical safety requirements.

One of the objectives of the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) is to improve the capabilities of national authorities to conduct their own evaluations of health and environmental hazards and risks from chemicals. Training courses have been conducted for senior decision makers and carefully chosen professionals. However, insufficient resources have precluded any large-scale training programme. IPCS provides comprehensive sets of tools for increasing the capacity of co un tries to deal effectively with poisonings, including guidelines on setting up and operating poison control centres and a handbook on recognizing poisoning and first aid measures. IPCS is preparing guidelines on the administrative and other structures needed to strengthen national chemical safety programmes.

WHO regional offices and UNEP Chemicals (IRPTC) also run training courses in hazard and risk assessment, and IRPTC furthermore assists countries in establishing national chemical information centres. The ECE encourages the implementation of OECD risk assessment practices by non-OECD members of the ECE region. Some countries in transition reported a particular need to boost their laboratories so as to be able to comply with guidelines. A slow phase-in method was reported to be working well in one transition economy, requiring compliance in the pharmaceutical industry first.

United Nations agencies and programmes, such as ILO, IMO, UNEP, WHO, UNIDO, IPCS and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) organize chemical safety training for developing countries. For example, UNIDO pays particular attention to training in the safe formulation and application of pesticides and has published safety guidelines. IPCS and ILO seek to train a country's trainers. ILO provides specific safety training to labour inspectorates.

The United Nations Centre for Urgent Environmental Assistance, which is an experimental programme of UNEP is exploring ways to enhance existing international capacities for responding to emergencies with environmental consequences. Certain developing countries, such as Sri Lanka, have, with the assistance of international organizations, surveyed hazardous industries and their preparedness for emergencies by drawing up programmes for institutional strengthening.

The ECE assists countries in economic transition in the clean-up of chemical waste sites. OECD's Development Assistance Committee recently adopted a number of guidelines on aid and environment which include guidance for the management of chemicals. UNITAR, in cooperation with IPCS and its cooperating organizations, has started work on an inventory of training assistance activities organized by international organizations in the field of chemical safety.

1. Before a substance can be introduced into commerce, the manufacturer should have to show that the substance and its associated by-products and breakdown products are neither persistent nor bioaccumulative and that they are not carcinogenic, mutagenic, disruptive of intracellular signalling (by hormones, neurotransmitters, growth factors, cytokines, and so on), or toxic at low doses to development, reproduction, immunity, or neurological function.

2. The limits of toxicology and epidemiology make the chemical-by-chemical approach unsuitable for protecting health and ecosystems. Synthetic chemicals, such as organochlorines, occur in complex mixtures, so toxicologists and epidemiologists will never be able to sort out which chemical is causing which health effects because groups of these compounds are always responsible.

Type Classification:
D: Detailed strategies