Overwhelming evidence globally shows that the toxic chemical, additives and pollutants found in plastics have serious risks to human and planetary health.

Findings from a recent United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report show that some 13,000 chemicals are used to make plastic. Only 3,200 are verified to be chemicals of potential concern and 6,000 of those have not been tested for their safety. 

A side event on ‘Plastic pollution, toxicity, chemicals, and potential risks to human health’ was held on day two of the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) to develop an internationally legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

“The health impact is known for only a fraction of all the chemicals used to make plastics and from what we know so far there is consistent evidence for harm,” said Marcus Gover from the Minderoo Foundation. He was one of the panellists.

“Chemicals of concern travel with plastic through its entire lifecycle, from production to disposal releasing harmful toxins along the way,” said another panellist, Jacqueline Alvarez from the United Nations Environment Programme.

“The findings in the report aren’t just to inspire or act as a catalyst for action. We need to move away from what we have now to more sustainable and safe alternatives. You have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really make a difference,”.

Indigenous peoples including those of the Pacific Islands are among the global populations most disproportionately exposed to the toxic chemicals found in all plastics.

“The Pacific Islands do not produce polymers nor their chemical constituents and there can be no safe and economically and environmentally sustainable way to manage those plastics post-consumption in the Pacific Islands considering the geographic and economic context,” said Trisia Farrelly, an Associate Professor of Massey University in New Zealand.

“This means that all the plastics that flow into the region remain there to break down into micro and nano-sized particles.  As they degrade, they leach these toxic chemicals.  Micro and nano-sized particles and chemicals contaminate land, water, soil, food, humans, and animals.” 

Microplastics in fish have also made their way to our tables and bodies. A recent study on fish ingestion with samples from four countries in the Pacific showed that 97 percent of all fish species sampled had microplastics which was 30 percent higher than the global average.

“Fisheries are the lifeblood of our economies and an important source of sustenance for our people. We believe the instrument should contain robust provisions for evaluating the effect of plastic pollution on human health including through further research and through cooperation with relevant bodies,” said Her Excellency Ilana Seid, the Chair of the Pacific Small Islands Developing States (PSIDS) and Ambassador of Palau to the United Nations.

The “Plastic pollution, toxicity, chemicals, and potential risks to human health” side event was held on Tuesday 30 May on the margins of the INC2.

The Speakers were Valentina Sierra from Uruguay, Jacqueline Alvarez of the United Nations Environment Programme, Kei Ohno of the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions, Richard Brown of the World Health Organization, Marcus Gover of the Minderoo Foundation, John (Norm) Norman from the International Council of Chemical Association, Olga Speranskaya of the Health and Environment Justice Support, Therese M. Karlsson of the International Pollutants Elimination Network and Severin Sindizera from the Association pour l’Integration et le Developpement Durable au Burundi.

This story was written by Nanette, originally published at SPREP on 31 May 2023, reposted via PACNEWS.

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