Much work remains to be done to understand and find ways to reduce and mitigate the effects of harmful substances and hazardous waste on human health and the environment. There are increasing concerns about exposure and, above all, the exposure of children to harmful substances.
Many countries will face the challenge of handling hazardous materialssafely in the years ahead. In rapidly industrializing developing countries, activities ranging from mining and minerals processing to manufacturing and waste recycling are cause for concern to local citizens and foreign consumers alike. Growing awareness of the threats to human health and the environment arising from these activities is informing policy choices. Some health and environmental problemspersist, seemingly no matter how much is known about them or how accessible the solutions appear to be. Indoor air pollution caused by smoke from open fires, which poses serious health risks to millions of people, could be significantly reduced if a few low-cost behavioural changes were made.
An agricultual worker without a mask sprays chemical pesticides on a bean field in Ecuador. The use ofmethods for safe storage, handling, and use of pesticides is far less widespread in developing countries. Consequently, pesticides can pose serious health hazards to farm workers.
Credit: Philippe Henry / Biosphoto
Unanswered questions about nanomaterials
In 2009, researchers logged the appearance of the thousandth consumer product containing nanomaterials (Nanotechproject2009a). It is estimated that revenues from nanotechnology and its many applications, such as nanoelectronics and nanobiotechnology, could increase a hundredfold in the next decade, from around US$32 billion today. Millions of new jobs could be created (Kelly 2009, Lux 2009, Palmberg and others 2009). A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) points outthat while nanotechnology is generally considered to offer “considerable promise extending from business opportunities throughout various industries to broader socioeconomic benefits, especially in the context of energy, health care, clean water and climate
New potential environmental hazards and risks are emerging. Perhaps most notably, nanomaterials present policy-makers in anumber of countries with the problem of how to assess their hazards and risks and regulate them. Science is also advancing our understanding of the subtle and often hidden hazards of existing and widely used chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors, interfering with hormone systems. Policy-makers face new challenges here, too, not least in interpreting the emerging science and deciding when and howto act. Control of hazardous materials is an important aspect of international cooperation. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) lists a growing number of harmful substances. In 2009, several brominated flame retardants (BFRs) were added to the list of substances whose release to the environment is to be eliminated or reduced under the Stockholm Convention. In the caseof two commonly used pesticides, endosulfan and atrazine, the science remains unclear and regulation is scattered. Waste streams have a profound impact on health and the environment. In 2009, there was increased international transport of hazardous and electronic waste, highlighting the need for international cooperation on this problem. Properly handled, much waste can be turned into valuableraw resources. This may even include urban sewage water, which, once it has been treated, can be an important source of irrigation water and agricultural nutrients.
HARmfUl sUBstANcEs ANd HAzARdOUs WAstE
change,” monitoring of investments and of companies’ involvement in nanotechnology development needs to be improved. Just as there is still some debate among scientists concerning the...