Side events, held on the sidelines of the fifth International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5), addressed the impacts of artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) in the Amazon, human biomonitoring (HBM) for chemicals exposure and risk assessment, poison centers, and the right to a safe and healthy working environment. 

During an event on ‘Leveraging Sustainable Chemistry and Circular Economy for Global Environmental Resilience: Addressing the Impacts of ASGM,’ panelists shared strategies for tackling the environmental impacts and health risks of using mercury in artisanal and small-scale mining, which supports the livelihoods of around 20 million people worldwide. The event, sponsored by GIZ, was hosted by Talita de Mello Pinotti, UN System Staff College, who noted the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) cited ASGM as the world’s biggest source of mercury.

Panelists presented on, among other issues:

  • an initial assessment of mercury in Brazil being finalized through a Global Environment Facility (GEF) project as part of Brazil’s strategy for implementing the Minamata Convention;
  • the development of the Gold Without Mercury joint initiative of UNEP and the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy to reduce and, if possible, eliminate mercury pollution from gold mining;
  • opportunities for using the circularity principle through recirculating rather than discharging water, better mine planning and sources of electricity, and using capital generated from mining to foster alternative livelihoods, including in agriculture;
  • the organization of Brazilian cooperatives, which includes transferring Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM)-developed knowledge to help alignment with global standards;
  • using certified gold, which is challenging for local ASGM-active populations as most gold mining activities are in the informal sector, affecting security of investments in certification efforts; and
  • difficulties of addressing mercury on Indigenous land given lack of understanding and trust. 

An event, titled, ‘Human Biomonitoring – A Tool for Exposure and Risk Assessment of Chemicals,’ explored HBM as a tool to assess human exposure to chemicals and pollutants at the national, regional, and global levels, emphasizing that HBM also evaluates the effectiveness of regulatory measures, allowing the development of evidence-based policies. The event provided a platform for discussing HBM-related interventions, underscored the importance of international commitments to make HBM accessible to all, and showcased the utility of HBM in monitoring the success of multilateral agreements.

Among other issues, panelists discussed:

  • efforts to analyze public exposure to dangerous chemicals in Germany and to expand to other regions, including in Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, following the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative;
  • HBM to assess chemical exposure from all exposure sources and routes, and to enable identification of priority substances and the number of people exposed;
  • a study in Bor, eastern Serbia, which has a copper mining tradition, and is home to many incidents of lung and other types of cancer;
  • performing HBM studies for lead and arsenic in northern Serbia and parts of Croatia and Hungary;
  • large capacity inequities, including in laboratories and human resources, creating obstacles for a globally harmonized approach; and
  • an effectiveness evaluation framework using HBM expected to be agreed at the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP5) to the Minamata Convention in November 2023, which will allow mercury HBM in countries with no experience.

The event was organized by BMUV and WHO.

Another event, convened by WHO, focused on the theme, ‘World Health Organization (WHO) Chemicals Roadmap: Poisons Centers Saving Lives and Health Sector Costs.’ Speakers addressed issues facing poison centers around the world while emphasizing their critical role in toxicovigilance and in the Beyond 2020 framework. Panelists explained that poison centers are integral to the WHO Roadmap, by: identifying priority chemicals for national assessment and management, and national indicators of progress for reducing chemicals’ burden of disease; establishing and strengthening the WHO’s International Health Regulations (IHR) core capacities; and ensuring all countries have access to at least one poison center. 

In a keynote speech, Mark Lawrence Zammit, Ministry of Health, Malta, discussing the role of poison centers, cited, among others, their management of public health in chemical emergencies, and their contribution to chemicals management through building databases on chemical agents, mixtures, and products, including pesticides.

Other issues addressed included:

  • the establishment in Montenegro of a public health emergency center and processes to respond to biological and chemical hazards;
  • poison centers and networks in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and new training opportunities in Central America, including a Master’s degree program in toxicology in Panama; and
  • challenges faced in Zambia in establishing a poison center, including with respect to funding and stakeholder engagement.

The Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste: At the Heart of the Right to a Safe and Healthy Working Environment,’ event addressed hazardous chemicals exposure, and the one million workers dying every year from it. Organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the event focused on the occupational health crisis for workers, as regulatory risk assessment struggles in light of an expanding global chemical industry.

Panelists discussed:

  • the threat posed by hazardous chemical substances resulting in negative economic consequences equal to 2.1% of annual global gross domestic product (GDP);
  • inclusion of a safe and healthy working environment in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work;
  • promoting sustainable chemicals production and use in line with the SDGs;
  • improving safety for workers through preventive measures, substituting dangerous chemicals, protective equipment, relevant training, and ILO standards and guidelines; and
  • efforts to include language in the Beyond 2020 framework that better reflects workers’ needs and the need for information on procurement and on just transition.

The four events convened on 26 September 2023. 

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) is covering selected side events during ICCM5, as well as the negotiations on the new framework.