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A Toxics-Free Future


Chemical management will enter the spotlight

by Cheryl Hogue

A key sustainability goal for industry, governments, and environmentalists in 2020 is expanding efforts to improve the management of commercial chemicals.

They plan to build on a United Nations deal called the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM). The aim of SAICM, which was adopted in 2006 and expires this year, is to ensure that chemicals are manufactured and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on human health and the environment.

To keep global efforts moving in this area, industry, governments, and environmental and health groups will convene in October for the fifth International Conference on Chemicals Management. Their goal is to extend and expand SAICM through 2030.

This meeting is “the top advocacy priority for the chemical industry,” says Michael P. Walls on behalf of the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA). Walls is vice president of regulatory and technical affairs at the American Chemistry Council, the largest trade association of US chemical manufacturers.

The global chemical industry has backed SAICM since its inception. Large international companies see it as a mechanism to ensure that all actors in their supply chains are trained and accountable for safe handling of chemicals. They also want to control risks posed by commercial chemicals rather than face regulation or market shifts away from particular compounds.

ICCA wants to expand SAICM to promote the international sharing of hazard and risk information on chemicals, Walls says, especially among developing countries with less-advanced regulatory systems than Canada, the European Union, Japan, and the US. Chemical makers have a great deal of this type of information but have historically kept it in-house.

A voluntary US data-sharing program for chemicals produced in large volumes and information exchange forums in the EU have proved that chemical companies “can find ways to get the relevant information out,” Walls says.

Meanwhile, the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), a coalition of environmental and health advocacy groups, wants the new SAICM to be stronger than the expiring one, says Joseph DiGangi, the organization’s senior science and technical adviser.

In particular, IPEN is seeking financing to implement SAICM, notably in developing countries. To this end, the coalition is proposing a small levy on chemical manufacturers worldwide, perhaps 0.1% on sales.

In support of the levy, IPEN points to a 2013 UN Environment Programme report that says, “The vast majority of human health costs linked to chemicals production, consumption and disposal are not borne by chemicals producers, or shared down the value-chain. Uncompensated harms to human health and the environment are market failures that need correction.”