“Citizens’ Report” Bewails Slow Action vs. Toxic Chemicals

Quezon City. As delegates from governments, industry associations and public interest groups start to converge in Geneva for the second International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM2), a global coalition today released a “Citizens’ Report” calling for robust and faster action towards chemical safety.

The Philippines will join the rest of the world in reviewing the implementation of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), a global policy and strategy adopted in 2006 to protect human and ecological health from the harmful effects of toxic substances, including chemicals in products and wastes.

The International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) prepared the “Citizens’ Report” with inputs from numerous public interest groups worldwide, including local groups such as Ban Toxics, EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Health Care Without Harm and Pesticide Action Network-Philippines.

While admitting some progress in promoting chemical safety, the “Citizens’ Report” lamented that “the pace has been slow and uneven, and it does not appear that the global community is yet on track to achieve SAICM’s 2020 objective.”

When SAICM was adopted, the international community pledged to achieve “the sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle so that, by 2020, chemicals are used and produced in ways that lead to the minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment.”

SAICM’s implementation in the Philippines and Southeast Asia “has been slow and not commensurate with the intensity of chemical hazards that the people, particularly the most vulnerable groups and communities, face daily,” the “Citizens’ Report” said.

The “Citizens’ Report” particularly noted the insufficient commitment of governments to basic principles such as the precautionary principle, substitution principle, polluter pays principle, no data, no market and the public right to know.

“There are ongoing efforts to address chemical safety issues. But, we find these patchy and inadequate to fully safeguard our citizens and ecosystems from chemical trespassing and pollution. Much more has to be done to ensure a toxics-free future for our country and people,” said Manny Calonzo, IPEN co-hub for Southeast Asia.

“Good SAICM implementation will promote a new chemicals control policy anchored on the precautionary principle and other vital elements to uphold public health, environmental justice and democracy,” stated Dr. Romy Quijano, President of Pesticide Action Network-Philippines.

The groups welcomed recent moves by the Philippines to get rid of the country’s stockpiles of polychlorinated biphenyls using a non-combustion method, the phaseout mercury-containing thermometers and blood pressure devices in all hospitals by 2010, and the restriction or ban on some highly toxic pesticides such as endosulfan, azinphos-ethyl, methyl parathion, monocrotophos and triphenyltins.

However, the groups noted that the government has yet to fully act on a long list of chemicals of highest concern, including restricting, phasing out or banning chemicals that are persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic or those that adversely affect the reproductive, immune, endocrine or nervous systems, and toxic metals such as lead and mercury.

“We need to draw up and implement cautious policies covering the full spectrum of substances common in modern lives and provide complete control, regulation and surveillance of these chemicals during their entire life cycle,” the groups said.

The Southeast Asia section of the “Citizens’ Report” listed several gaps in the implementation of SAICM in the Philippines and the region, pointing to the lack of holistic policy and program to promote alternatives to toxic processes, technologies and products such as toxic reduction at source, clean production, extended producer responsibility, green chemistry, ecological agriculture and zero waste.

Other glaring gaps include the low public awareness on chemical issues, inadequate public input and participation in chemical policy development, and lack of accessible information about chemicals, including their impacts on human and ecological health, particularly on developing fetuses, children, women and workers in the agricultural, industrial and waste sectors.

In releasing the “Citizens’ Report,” the groups called on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the national focal point for SAICM, to proactively put chemical safety on top of the national agenda and budget in close partnership with other government institutions and the public and private sectors.

The “Citizens’ Report” is being released just prior to ICCM2 that will take place in Geneva, Switzerland from May 11 to 15, 2009. The report is available online at www.ipen.org/campaign

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