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Preface Annex 1
OPPORTUNITIES AND RISKS
Toxic chemicals can cause a variety of adverse health effects. Toxic substances such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and sulphuric acid contaminate water and soil, and affect human health. More than 50 000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides have been stockpiled in Africa contaminating tens of thousands of tonnes of soil. These obsolete pesticides represent a major threat for human health (NEPAD 2003). Low-level exposure to some chemicals present in industrial effluent or used as pesticides, such as PCBs, dioxins, and POPs such as DDT, may cause endocrine disruption, undermining disease resistance and affecting reproduction (MA 2006). They are also responsible for more acute health impacts, including poisoning. Persistent organic pollutants cause a range of health problems, even at low levels of exposure, including reproductive and developmental disorders, damage to the immune and nervous systems, and a range of cancers (Gordon and others 2004, MA 2006). Exposure during key phases of foetal development can be particularly damaging (IPEN 2002). Heavy metals pose serious threats, particularly to children and during foetal development (Gordon and others 2004). In Africa, between 18 and 24 per cent of children have concentrations of more than 10 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dl) of blood (Gordon and others 2004). Box 3 gives an overview of problems associated with lead contamination, with a special focus on mining in Central Province in Zambia.
With growing production and consumption, and new economic development, the risks associated with chemical use will increase. This will place new demands on Africa’s chemical management institutions. In addition to intended environmental releases, there is also an increased risk of accidental releases and chemical-related accidents. Examples of hazardous incidents include the misuse of mercury in small-scale mining, PCBs in the electricity sector, DDT in the health sector and pesticides in the agricultural sector.
These chemicals pose serious risks that are exacerbated by the lack of adequate access to information regarding safe handling, use and disposal of chemicals. See for example the risks associated with Lead in Box 3 and DDT in Box 4. Poverty and lack of access to information may exacerbate these negative impacts. In the context of scarce resources, chemical containers are often re-used by rural people for household purposes including the collection of water and can result in poisoning. More than 11 million poisoning cases by pesticides occur annually in Africa (NEPAD 2003), yet few African countries have specialized poison centres. In 2004, only ten African countries had poison centres, and none had more than five (Gordon and others 2004). Further, since agriculture is the main employer for women and children, they are the most exposed to chemical risks. In many cases, both for subsistence and commercial farming, producers and workers have insufficient knowledge about the health risks posed by chemicals and therefore fail to take adequate protective measures.
NATURAL RESOURCE USE AND ADVERSE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS
The chemical industry is dependent on raw materials including coal, gas, air, water, minerals and genetic resources. With increased production the demand for these resources will also increase. Promoting sustainable use of natural resources and the adoption of cleaner production must, therefore, be a focus of industrial management. The industry itself is increasingly recognizing this through, for example, environmental standards adopted by the International Standards Organization (ISO). Consumers are also increasingly demanding such integrated approaches.
Industrial processes require large amounts of water and energy. In non-OECD countries, the use of energy for chemical production has increased. Given the shift of the industry to developing countries there has also been a shift in the share of energy use in these countries from 20 per cent in 1971 to 43 per cent in 1998 (Buccini 2004). Increasing energy use also results in increased emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) that contribute to climate change (see Chapter 2: Atmosphere). Specific threats posed by climate change and variability are discussed in Chapter 1: The Human Dimension (health), and Chapter 3: Land (food security). The chemicals industry accounts for one-quarter of the total releases of CO2 from industrial sector operations, although this amounted to only 4 per cent of the emissions from all sources in 1997 (Buccini 2004).