UN agencies urge end to potentially deadly – but preventable – lead

Pregnant mothers and young children in the developing world are exposed to high levels of lead through unsafe paints, particularly in colours yellow and red where lead is added as a pigment, United Nations environment agency today reported amid International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action.“In this day and age, it is quite frankly breathtaking that parents painting their child’s nursery a cheerful red, or handing their child a colourful toy may, through no fault of their own, be exposing that child to a pernicious and damaging toxin: lead,” said Nick Nuttall, Spokesperson and Director of Communications at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The study finds that the majority of the paints tested would not meet regulatory standards established in most highly industrialized countries – for example, 90 parts per million (ppm) in the United States and Canada – and that some contain astonishingly high and dangerous levels of lead. The study analyzed enamel decorative paints from nine countries: Argentina, Azerbaijan, Chile, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Tunisia and Uruguay.“This report seeks to catalyze action by raising awareness among Governments, manufacturers and consumers not just that the problem exists, but that there are cheap and safe alternatives to lead already in use that can lift this health burden in a very short time,” Mr. Nuttall said. The report also found that few countries have established regulatory frameworks for lead paint, but those that do, generally exhibit lower lead paint levels. Worldwide, 30 countries have already phased out the use of lead paint. The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint, co-led by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and UNEP, has set a target of 70 countries by 2015.International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week of Action, which the Global Alliance is running through 26 October, focuses this year on the important of avoiding lead paint and using safe alternatives in order to prevent children from being harmed by lead poisoning.Exposure to lead paint can be particularly grave among children, especially those living in low and middle-income countries which account for 99 per cent of children affected by high exposure to lead, WHO reported.An estimated 143,000 deaths per year result from lead poisoning, often linked to lead paint, while some 600,000 new cases of intellectual disabilities are linked to childhood lead exposure.“Lead poisoning remains the number one environmental health concern for children globally and led paint is a major flashpoint for children’s potential lead poisoning,” said WHO’s Director of Public Health and Environment, Dr. Maria Neira.Meanwhile, UN chemical experts have recommended the phase out of two industrial chemicals, with uses ranging from wood preservation to pest control, due to human health risks.The Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee, a subsidiary body of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), recommended the inclusion of polychlorinated napththalenes (PCN) and hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD) to the UN-backed major treaty banning hazardous chemicals.Every human in the world carries in his or her body traces of POPs, which circulate globally through a process known as the “grasshopper effect” and include chemicals which are agents that that can kill people, damage the nervous and immune systems, cause cancer and reproductive disorders and interfere with normal infant and child development.POPs released in one part of the world can, through a repeated process of evaporation and deposit, be transported through the atmosphere to regions far away from the original source. They are readily absorbed in fatty tissue of fish, predatory birds and mammals through the food chains.Both chemicals have been recommended for listing in Annexes A and C to the Convention, thus targeting their intentional production, as well as unintentional releases of the chemicals.The recommendations will be sent to the Parties to the Stockholm Convention for consideration at the seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties, scheduled to be held from 4 to 15 May 2015 in Geneva. read more

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2015 will be tough year for humanitarian operations senior UN official warns

“When we look back at where we were this time last year we had about 52 million people in humanitarian need and we are now ending the year with over 76 million people,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Director of Operations John Ging told UN Radio. The cost of responding to that has grown by a similar rate from about $12.9 billion in 2013 up to $19.2 billion dollars right now, Mr. Ging added. “The poor people who are affected by the crisis…are losing their lives in the hundreds of thousands, in the millions, in fact. And with tens of millions really subsisting in terrible misery and inhumane conditions, they certainly can’t afford for this situation to continue,” he said. These people are relying on the generosity of those who have the means to help them. And while there are no clear indicators for optimism, it is important to stay hopeful, he said. “We have to work to see an end to so many of these conflicts which have been raging on and intensifying. They are manmade conflicts so they can be ended. There is a basis there for progress if we can find a way to find political solutions.” Mr. Ging stressed that 2014 was a very difficult as well as dangerous year for aid workers. “Sadly we have lost 85 colleagues so far this year in over 230 attacks on humanitarian workers. It’s very frustrated for humanitarian workers to be out there on the frontlines, underfunded facing the inhumanity and suffering, unable to deliver the assistance that people urgently need.” “But they just continue to do a heroic job. There’s no choice. We have to keep going and not give up. And the fact that they don’t give up and that they do keep going saves tens of millions of lives and reduces suffering,” he said. When asked about why some crises get more attention than others, Mr. Ging said that it is a duty to treat all people equally in terms of support. But he admitted that it is easier said than done because political attention is often focused on some of the more politically important crises.“There are places, for example, across the Sahel where 572,000 children died last year, malnourished, suffering from diseases that could be cured or prevented. There is a scale of suffering in so many places that I think the world has become quite numb in a way.” Certainly, it is difficult to gain media attention for such a broad scale of disaster across the world, Mr. Ging said. “Our job is to somehow work to raise that profile. And make sure that the way we do our humanitarian action we are focused on people and not the media spotlight and any other drivers of attention.” read more

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