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Posted: May 18, 2009

UN forum pledges action on nanotechnology and chemicals

(Nanowerk News) A UN global chemicals forum on safe and sustainable chemicals management agreed last week to address four emerging policy issues in the sector: nanotechnology, e-waste, chemicals in everyday products and lead in paint.
The second International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM2) focused on emerging issues, each of "which have not yet been generally recognised or sufficiently addressed, but which may have significant adverse effects on human beings and/or the environment".
The conference comes as Europe has started to implement its REACH regulation on chemicals, which is seen as a world reference for promoting chemical safety.
The event underlined the need to improve the accessibility and availability of information on chemicals contained in products such as computers, textiles, toys, furniture, jewellery, cars and clothes as well as electronics and their accessories. "An information system or framework of systems" was proposed to tackle the issue, and a working group will be set up soon to address the practicalities of the proposal.
The objective is to provide information on chemicals' effects on human health and the environment, intrinsic properties, potential uses, protective measures and regulation.
A range of cooperative actions were put forward to address the new health and safety challenges posed by rapidly merging nanotechnologies, as well as the challenges of assessing the safety of manufactured nanomaterials. Actions proposed range from raising awareness and respecting the precautionary principle to minimising exposure of workers and promoting alternatives to nanomaterials.
As for electronic waste, the forum underlined Africa's lack of capacity for environmentally sound management of electronic waste and toxic chemicals. The conference also highlighted the problem of illegal dumping of e-waste, resulting in the "transboundary movement of its hazardous constituents such as heavy metals and brominated flame retardants".
To tackle e-waste, SAICM pressed for "clean technology and environmentally friendly design" to be included in electronic and electrical products, including phasing out hazardous substances used in production. It also stressed improved product stewardship and extended producer responsibility in the life-cycle management of electronic and electrical products.
The conference also emphasised the need to prevent children's and occupational exposures to lead in paint. Actions proposed there include encouraging wholesalers and retailers to halt sales of paints containing lead and the use of financial incentives to support the use of lead-free paints and phase out the manufacture and sale of these paints.
Apart from its work on the emerging issues, the ICCM2 also pledged to improve the management of perfluorinated chemicals. These are used to make materials stain, stick and heat resistant, but like the chemicals known as POPs (persistent organic pollutants), they are toxic, accumulate in the body and are easily transported across long distances.
The conference also said more funding was needed to help developing countries implement the SAICM.
Next steps
27-29 May 2009: Helsinki Chemicals Council.
2012: Third meeting of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM3).
The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) was adopted by the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM) in 2006. It is part of the UNEP and forms a policy framework to foster sound management of chemicals.
SAICM is a multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral exercise to help achieve the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development goal of ensuring that, by the year 2020, chemicals are produced and used in ways that minimise significant adverse impacts on the environment and human health.
One of SAICM's functions is "to focus attention and call for appropriate action on emerging policy issues as they arise, and to forge consensus on priorities for cooperative action".
Based on a wide consultation, the SAICM secretariat identified four emerging policy issues for discussion and possible cooperative action to be decided upon in at the second ICCM on 11-15 May 2009.
Source: EurActiv
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