Chemicals Management: Need in India and Benefits
Opinion

Chemicals Management: Need in India and Benefits

The development and establishment of an adequate institutional and regulatory framework is important for sound management of chemicals.

  • By Varun Singh Poonia , Deputy Industrial Adviser, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers | January 02, 2023

Without chemicals, modern existence would be unimaginable because they are a part of our daily lives. The chemical business is one of the largest in the world, with yearly revenues above EUR 4 trillion and projected to reach almost EUR 24 trillion by 2060. One of the largest industrial sectors in the world is the chemical industry, which presents a number of difficulties for government regulators because ineffective regulation can have costly effects on the environment, human health, government budgets, and the continuation of this significant global sector.

In order to address this issue, industrial chemicals management systems have been developed in recent decades. Between 1985 and 2013, a number of multilateral environmental agreements were ratified under the auspices of the United Nations, and in 2006, the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management, or SAICM, was founded.

A number of significant chemical accidents; to name a few: Seveso, Italy in 1976; Bhopal, India in 1984; or the Buncefield in the United Kingdom in 2005—have drawn attention to the necessity of taking steps to prevent and mitigate the effects of chemical accidents on the environment, human health, and the economy. Additionally, as the global challenge of pollution increases (the 2017 UN Environment Assembly's theme was "Toward a Pollution-Free Planet"), the actions that support addressing the problem, such as the Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers, are taking on more significance on national and international agendas.

Achieving that chemicals are generated and used throughout their life cycles in ways that minimise negative effects on human health and the environment is the ultimate benefit of competent chemical management. Therefore, competent chemical management entails prevention (i.e., use of the precautionary approach), remediation (e.g., use of the polluter-pays principle), risk minimization and elimination (e.g., use of the pollution prevention principle) throughout the chemical life cycle (production, storage, transport, use and disposal).

It also entails the application of the right-to-know concept by providing the public with information about chemical emissions and qualities, internalisation of environmental and human health costs, and use of the best available scientific information and evaluation. The proper management of chemicals aids environmental protection and offers the general public numerous real benefits.

The Sustainable Development Goals' various particular aims can be obtained in part thanks to wise chemical management. Governments can comply with international responsibilities and recommendations thanks to sound chemical management.

In addition to ensuring that governments have access to information on chemicals to facilitate the identification of potential threats to human health and the environment, sound chemicals management enables comprehensive approaches to both new and current chemicals. Additionally, it encourages pollution prevention at the source. As it typically involves the involvement of authorities responsible for, for example, the environment, health, labour, trade, foreign affairs, and consumers, sound chemicals management supports the establishment of multi-institutional coordination and cooperation mechanisms, which are necessary to appropriately develop and implement the sound chemicals management throughout their life-cycle. Achieving effective chemical management permits measuring and promoting enhanced environmental performance of industrial activities as well as evaluating national environmental policy. Utilizing the data gathered from the Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers is crucial in this regard.

An important component of effective chemical management is prevention. Governments lower the expenses of public spending on healthcare and accident response by taking preventative measures to minimise the negative effects of chemicals on human health and the environment (and so reducing, for example, the incidence of accidents at work or unintentional poisonings).

The development and establishment of an adequate institutional and regulatory framework, as well as the acquisition of the required human, technical, and financial resources for its long-term implementation, are important for sound management of chemicals. Once these components are in place, governments may readily adjust this framework to meet new and emerging concerns, such as synthetic nanomaterials or substances that disturb the endocrine system.

It is advantageous for industry in many ways to publish the pertinent information regarding the hazardous qualities of the chemicals it employs and to carry out its risk assessment. In addition to being necessary for regulatory purposes, these data guarantee supply chain communication regarding the safe use of chemicals. In particular, it makes it possible to create safety data sheets with information pertinent to occupational safety and health (e.g. first aid measures, firefighting measures, accidental release measures, safe handling measures, personal protection measures). Utilizing this knowledge improves worker protection, which in turn lowers accident rates and the incidence of occupational diseases. As a result, a healthier population produces more wealth and is more productive.

In addition to the cost savings associated with the decline in accidents and occupational illnesses, industry is able to: develop ways to lower insurance and maintenance costs, increase process safety, and eliminate company risks associated with liability claims.

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals is known as GHS. This approach presents standardised hazard communication elements, such as labels and safety data sheets, and deals with categorising substances according to different types of hazards. In order to improve the protection of human health and the environment throughout the handling, transport, and use of these chemicals, it strives to ensure that information on physical risks and toxicity from chemicals is available.

Companies can meet the growing public demand for sustainable products and services thanks to good chemical management. It gives a company a competitive edge in addressing the demands of consumers who are becoming more informed, and it also helps to improve the company's image, reputation, brand, and share value. It also reduces non-tariff trade obstacles, promotes commerce, and gives businesses an edge.

An unforeseen incident involving dangerous compounds that endangers human life, the environment, or property is referred to as a chemical accident. Although it is difficult to prevent every accident, safety precautions can minimise the risk of accidents happening, prevent them from happening in the first place, and lessen the severity of any accidents that do happen. The costs of accidents include the costs of lost profits, the costs of replacing damaged goods and equipment, the costs of rebuilding, the costs of paying for medical bills, lawsuits, and fines, and the costs of enhanced surveillance.

Additionally, the accident itself, its causes, and the manner in which the business handled the fallout from the event could have an impact on the business' image, reputation, brand, and share value.

Without business involvement, it is impossible to manage chemicals responsibly. After all, it is the industry that should provide and perform the initial analysis of the data required to identify potential impacts and ensure safe use of chemicals with regard to both human health and the environment. As a result, in order for smart chemical management to be effective, it must be a transparent and inclusive process that involves all relevant parties during all phases of its creation and execution.

This, in turn, benefits the sector in a number of ways. In particular, it enables it to: actively participate in conversations on the many aspects of safe chemical management; be aware of impending regulatory changes well in advance; and have predictable deadlines to prepare for them.

A level playing field for businesses, few unregulated chemicals, and no unfair advantages for "free riders" are all results of good chemical management. Furthermore, effective chemical management necessitates the development and maintenance of a cooperative partnership between industry and regulators.

Effective chemical management minimises the risks associated with chemical production and use, hence lowering the number of fatalities and injuries in the workplace. Additionally, it advocates for improved working conditions and a decrease in lost productivity.

The general state of the environment and the risks associated with using items containing chemicals in particular are topics of increasing public concern. Sound chemical management raises people's hazard awareness, which leads to safer chemical use at work and at home. It also makes it easier to develop and maintain adequate risk communication throughout the entire supply chain.

Access to environmental information, such as details on industrial activities, installations, geographic location, and substances utilised, is improved by sound chemical management, for example, through the construction of Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers. Additionally, it expands the informational resources available for scientific research.

The information available on the effects of chemicals on human health is selective, far from exhaustive, and does not apply to a sizable fraction of the chemicals now in use. However, it is very obvious that coping with the health consequences of chemical usage will be expensive for both the global society and individual governments, especially over the long run. The information at hand strongly recommends taking preventive and proactive measures while controlling chemicals. Therefore, good chemical management reduces the amount of chemical-related illnesses and accidents, protects the environment, and benefits the general people by improving their quality of life.

The key to effective chemical management is prevention. It reduces the environmental dangers associated with the manufacture, use, and disposal of chemicals. For instance, it is in favour of replacing dangerous chemicals and reducing toxic chemical discharges. As chemical mishaps can negatively affect agriculture, fisheries, flora, fauna, and recreational amenities, it also talks about safety precautions at installations. It also contains measures pertinent to lessening the negative effects after the damage has already happened (e.g. the application of the polluter-pays principle). Last but not least, prudent pesticide management practices including integrated pest control and limiting usage of pesticides will help farmers.

India needs the industrial chemicals management system in order to achieve the sustainable goals in true sense and safeguards the citizens of the country from harmful effects of chemicals. We need to collect, analyse, evaluate and make a conscious decision based on scientific data of all chemicals which are placed in the Indian market. It is our duty to protect the 1.4 billion people of the country to safeguards from the risks associated with chemicals, particularly serious health hazards and to save the future generations.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are strictly personal.

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