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The International Conference on Chemicals Management wants to make sure you do.
GENEVA — While worrying about swine flu, you might be overlooking dangers lurking in your own living room, according to the International Conference on Chemicals Management, meeting in Geneva this week.
A wide range of new threats, ranging from experimental nano technologies to exotic chemicals used in the microprocessors in cellphones and laptop computers can be lethal.
“They are in everything around us,” said Matthew Gubb, a coordinator at the secretariat of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), which is hosting the Geneva conference.
Some 200 international conventions concerning chemical use have been signed since the early 20th century. This week’s meeting, which is being attended by 140 governments, 60 NGOs, 20 international organizations, and the CEOs of eight major chemical companies, intends to start the process of setting universal standards. This is particularly important for the emerging markets, which are most likely to continue using dangerous chemicals that the developed world has long since put aside.
Children in the developing world are particularly vulnerable to the hazards of dangerous chemicals, but in the globalized economy dangerous substances can show up almost anywhere. That cuddly teddy bear that you buy for your kid may boast an American brand, but the components that went into making it could just as easily come from China, Mexico or any of a score of emerging economies, each with its own view of what constitutes safety. The recent panic over lead paint in toys manufactured in China is just one example.
“The fact is that when you buy a toy in a store, you have no idea of where its materials came from,” said Alexandra Caterbrow,of Women in Europe for a Common Future, an NGO that is lobbying for tighter controls and more transparency in labeling. Caterbrow said that the negative effects from some of these chemicals can range from increased autism in children to damage to the endocrine system. The problem, she said, is that when restrictions are established, exceptions usually follow, and often these are based on factors that have nothing to do with scientific evidence.