Establishing chemical risk reduction programmes

Chemical risk reduction programmes include fundamental arrangements such as chemical safety legislation and enforcement, adequate labelling, life-cycle-analysis and cleaner production, accident prevention and containment procedures, responsible care and stewardship by industry. The establishment and implementation of the PIC procedure provides an immediate way to reduce the risk posed by chemicals banned or severely restricted in one or more countries.

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.

OECD intends to use the results of a recent survey of pesticide risk reduction activities in member countries as a basis for setting priorities for future work. FAO/UNEP/WHO are collaborating on a project to publish guidelines on the treatment and disposal of bulk and small quantities of pesticide waste aimed especially for developing countries.

There is a proposal for a [EEC/EU Biocides Directive], which will establish a list of approved active ingredients in non-agricultural pesticides, and will complement an existing directive on plant protection products. Some countries have found that attaching a high cost to re-registering older pesticides has removed the higher risk chemicals from the market.

WHO is promoting the application of health-based guideline values for chemicals in air and water through its regional offices. ILO formulates policies and programmes to help improve working conditions with respect to chemicals and produces international labour standards to serve as guidelines to national authorities in putting these risk reduction policies into action.

An important way to achieve risk reduction is to adopt cleaner production methods and a life-cycle approach to assessing and handling chemicals. For instance, UNEP operates a database providing information on cleaner production technologies and products.

In the ECE recommendations on reduction, replacement, recovery, recycling and re-utilization of industrial products, residues or waste (1992), due consideration is given to the substitution of hazardous substances by less dangerous or non-hazardous ones with respect to possible health and environmental effects throughout all stages of the commercial life of a chemical.

The United Nations RTDG address not only classification and labelling but also requirements for packing, multimodal tank transport and consignment procedures. They are reflected in numerous national regulations and in a number of international instruments, including the [International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code] (under the auspices of IMO) and the [European Agreement concerning International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road] (under the auspices of ECE). They also influence emergency response approaches.

Phasing out of chloro-fluorocarbons (CFCs) is addressed by the [Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer] and the [Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer], as amended. This is an example of a global risk reduction programme in operation.

OECD has developed an international cooperative risk reduction programme. A small number of substances (lead, cadmium, mercury, methylene chloride and brominated flame retardants) have been selected by OECD member countries for a pilot risk reduction project. The programme has been expanded to cover risk prevention in close cooperation with the pollution prevention and control programme. A number of new approaches will be explored, such as the use of pollutant release and transfer registers. Another focus will be to develop practical approaches to substances that have similar structure, use, hazardous properties or manufacturing processes.

The International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) is expanding its INTOX project to enhance chemical incident response and reporting and environmental health monitoring.

With the assistance of national and international organizations such as OECD and UNITAR, IPCS has been coordinating activities to facilitate the establishment of pollutant release and transfer registers (referred to as "emission inventories" in Agenda 21) as a risk reduction tool. In a separate but related activity, an ECE emission inventory guide-book for air pollutants has been developed, in collaboration with EEC/EU. Toxic release inventories, requiring industry to make an accounting of their toxic releases into the environment as part of community-right-to-know programmes, have led to voluntary clean-up in some countries - [eg] the USA.

Counter Claim:
One of the unavoidable failings of a risk-assessment approach to managing toxic chemicals is that you can only (partially) assess the risks of chemicals that you know a great deal about. US chemical manufacturers introduce about 1000 new chemicals into commercial use each year with no safety testing required and little or none done. Typically, safety testing only begins after industrial chemicals have been discovered causing harm 10 to 20 years after introduction. Risk assessments are always "behind the curve" and therefore always give false assurances of safety. An alternative to the risk assessment approach is to take precautionary action as soon as evidence of harm begins to emerge.
Preventing export of banned chemicals
Reducing overdependence on agrochemicals
Harmonizing transport of dangerous goods
Strengthening national poison control centres
Coordinating chemical risk reduction programmes
Establishing networks of emergency response centres
Minimizing risks from storage of outdated chemicals
Developing safer alternatives to dangerous materials
Strengthening programmes on chemical risk assessment
Phasing out banned chemicals still in stock or in use
Monitoring toxic chemicals during their entire life cycle
Harmonizing national and regional evaluation of pesticides
Setting priorities for chemicals risk reduction programmes
Developing public information guidelines on chemical risks
Using technologies that minimize releases to toxic chemicals
Phasing out and replacing chemicals posing unacceptable risks
Developing measures for safe production of dangerous materials
Developing emergency response procedures for chemical accidents
Disclosing by industry of chemical risks and emergency response
Reporting routine emissions of toxic chemicals to the environment
Identifying national requirements for standards for food chemicals
Exchanging information on programmes to reduce toxic chemical risk
Reassessing pesticides previously approved under inadequate criteria
Supporting adoption of chemical risk reduction procedures by enterprises
Developing international guidelines for the management of trade in chemicals
Taking a responsible care approach during full life cycle of chemical products
Urging chemical industry to apply standards at least equal to those in the country of origin
Adopting community right-to-know programmes on chemical risk based on international guidelines
Type Classification:
C: Cross-sectoral strategies