Deaths by exposure to hazardous chemicals increased 29% between 2016 and 2019: WHO


While most of these deaths are preventable, countries still don’t have enough legal control on the use of hazardous compounds such as lead

Deaths due to exposure to hazardous chemicals worldwide rose 29 per cent in 2019 from what they were in 2016, according to latest estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Two million people died due to exposure to hazardous chemicals in 2019, compared to 1.56 million in 2016, according to the global health body.

Hazardous chemicals are present in the air, in consumer products, at the workplace, in water, or in the soil. They can cause several diseases including mental, behavioural and neurological disorders, cataracts, or asthma.

The worrying estimates were released by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, during the Ministerial Dialogue held July 7, 2021 at the Berlin Forum on Chemicals and Sustainability: Ambition and Action towards 2030.

Between 4,270 and 5,400 people died every day due to unintentional exposure to chemicals, according to the figures. Children and young adults were particularly affected by unintentional poisoning from hazardous chemicals, WHO data showed.

The data reiterate the need for regulation and effective governance of chemicals. India too must take a note of this as the country’s national chemical policy has been pending since 2012. There is a need for a comprehensive law in the country to regulate chemical use, production and safety, DD Basu, former scientist, Central Pollution Control Board, told Down To Earth.

In 2020, Unicef too had raised concerns on the impact of lead pollution on the health of children in its report The Toxic Truth. At least 1 in 3 children — up to approximately 800 million globally — have blood lead levels at or above 5 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL), Unicef had said in the report.

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Down to Earth, 8 July 2021