Call to reduce killer chemical use as talks begin in Geneva

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The UN Environment Agency is pushing for better regulation of toxic chemicals and electronic waste. Photo: UNEP (file)

Limiting the use of killer chemicals worldwide and finding a solution to the "tsunami" of electronic waste must be addressed at key talks in Geneva, UN environment experts said Monday.

The announcement from the UN Environment Agency (UNEP) comes as 180 countries prepare to hammer out agreements on hazardous products.

According to the UN agency, there are roughly 100,000 known chemical substances in existence, but just how dangerous all of them are remains unclear.

Daniel Johnson has more.

As the talks get under way in Geneva, UNEP warned that more than one million people die from handling toxic chemicals every year.

UNEP chief Achim Steiner said that "chemistry was all around us and increasingly inside us", with potentially lethal consequences.

"Endocrine-disrupting chemicals confuse hormones, imitate hormones, do a great deal of things to our bodies that can lead to very significant damage; IQ, organs and ultimately affecting human health in very significant ways."

The aim of the talks is to improve three international conventions based in Geneva that contribute to global controls on hazardous chemicals and waste.

The conventions deal with the recycling of electronic waste, or e-waste, which UNEP says amounted to 41.8 million tonnes in 2014.

UNEP's Achim Steiner called it a "tsunami of ewaste rolling out over the world".

And the agency's Rolph Payet warned that people are being slowly poisoned by the toxic substances that are found in electronic products, since they eventually find their way back into the food chain.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations.

Duration: 1'07"


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