Linn Persson and Prof. Jamidu Katima
Prof. Jamidu Katima and Linn Persson, SEI
Photo credit: IISD

Results from two studies on chemicals management in Tanzania and Cambodia were presented by SEI researcher Linn Persson for policy-makers and stakeholders attending the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG2) of the International Conference on Chemicals Management in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Overall Orientation and Guidance (OOG) for achieving the 2020 goal and further provide input to the Sustainable Development Goals agenda were discussed at the meeting held in December 15-17.

The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) is a policy framework to promote chemical safety around the world. Under its 2020 goal, SAICM aims to achieve sound management of chemicals so they are produced and used in ways that minimize significant adverse impacts on human health and the environment. Linn Persson, Head of Unit at SEI Stockholm, shares her policy recommendations and insights from Geneva.

Q: What are the main problems regarding chemicals management?
Persson: Chemical misuse and mishandling are causing human suffering, environmental damage and significant economic costs to society. There are over 100,000 different chemicals used in society, for example in food production, building materials, medicines and toys. Some chemicals are more hazardous than others and can have severe impacts on human health and the environment. All chemicals need to be produced, used and disposed of in an appropriate way in order not to cause harm, but this is not yet reality everywhere.

Q: What will be the most important outcomes of the meeting in your opinion?
Persson: The meeting I am attending is a working group meeting preparing for the next International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM) in September 2015. One of the outcomes of the meeting is a document that will spell out how countries and other stakeholders can work to improve chemicals management in the next five years until 2020.

In my view it is key that the meeting participants can agree on a clear focus for the work ahead. 11 basic elements of sound chemicals management are proposed and a clear message that says they should be in place in every country would be a great achievement from this meeting. This would also help to address the gap in chemicals management between countries.

People in poverty are more at risk of exposure of hazardous chemicals. At the same time, improving chemicals management has positive benefits for the development of a society. This closely connects the need for improved chemicals management to the development agenda. Reducing poverty will decrease chemical risks, and reducing chemical risks is important for sustainable development.

Q: What are the most important findings in your research?
Persson: The SEI research team has studied a new international agreement on chemicals management called SAICM. We wanted to know how effective this agreement is in assisting a country like Tanzania in improving its national chemicals management. We found that the agreement has contributed positively to the development, but that there is still a long way to go towards sound management of chemicals in Tanzania.

Q: What do you expect from industry and policy-makers on chemicals management?
Persson: The private sector has a very important role to play. Keeping better track of chemicals in their products and along supply chains is a necessary step for reducing chemical risks. I also expect the industry to listen to the outcome of this meeting and phase out the most hazardous chemicals from their production without delay. This concerns for instance highly hazardous pesticides and the use of lead in paint.

In my view policy-makers should focus on reducing the gap between countries in terms of chemical safety. Today the gap is rather widening than closing; chemical production and use is increasing at high rates in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, which are also the countries with the weakest systems for chemicals management.

Q: What developments would you like to see in Tanzania?
Persson:For Tanzania, establishing the 11 elements would be a great leap forward in chemical safety. This will not be achieved over night. Some pieces are in place but many are still missing, for instance the implementation of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals is not fully implemented. Without it many other risk reduction and governance activities cannot be properly achieved.

In addition to addressing the 11 basic elements, we also suggest that Tanzania considers targeted efforts towards reducing the chemical use in the informal sector, including for example local business in developing countries. When we asked interviewees in Tanzania to list the most severe chemical problems, cases of chemical use in informal settings of different sectors dominated the list.

The SEI research team included Linn Persson, Åsa Persson (SEI Stockholm), Jacqueline Senyagwa (SEI Africa) and Chanthy Sam (SEI Asia).

Read SEI’s new project report: How Far to the 2020 Goal? The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management in Tanzania

Download SEI’s new policy brief: The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management in Cambodia – barriers and opportunities

Read more about the conference and view photos by IISD