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Chemical industry’s voluntary responsible care initiative, empty public relations exercise to avoid stringent Govt regulation

Written By Krishna on Saturday, October 13, 2012 | 4:35 AM

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)

Briefing Paper, October 13, 2012

Chemical industry’s voluntary responsible care initiative, empty public relations exercise to avoid stringent Govt regulation

Responsible care companies like BASF dumped methyl monomer at New Mangalore port

Alarm bells ringing against diseases caused by exposure to chemicals, Govt feigns deafness

TWA demands creation of inventory of chemicals used in India

Global Conference on responsible care initiative of the chemical industry in Mumbai on October 13, 2012 in Mumbai is admittedly a ‘voluntary initiative of the global chemical industry’ which is an unenforceable program. It is a public relations exercise designed to avoid stringent regulation by the government. This initiative was started in the aftermath of Bhopal’s industrial disaster in 1985.

An invitation letter from the organizers revealed that Indian Chemical Council (ICC) in cooperation with The International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) and with the support of Union Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers organized the conference on ‘responsible care’ with speakers from companies in India Japan, Taiwan, China, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Middle East, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Egypt, South Africa, Canada, Brazil etc who are wedded to self regulation regime of hollow ‘Responsible Care’ initiative. Responsible Care claims to stand for the chemical industry's desire to improve health, safety, and environmental performance.

The participation of likes of BASF India Ltd reveals the true nature of the participants. It came to light from a reply in the Parliament that some 92.4 metric tonnes of methyl monomer, a toxic compound used for making plastics, has been lying at the New Mangalore because the importer, BASF has inadequate storage space in its factory premises.

This act of BASF is the largest chemical company in the world which is headquartered in Germany whose "Methyl Monomer" containers are lying at New Mangalore port illustrates the true nature of ‘Responsible Care’. G K Vasan, Indian Minister of Shipping has informed the Parliament about it. BASF, the importer is the world's largest producer of acrylic monomer. Is it convincing that such a company has "Inadequate storage space in the factory premises" as has been claimed by BASF India Limited? ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) had demanded investigation by a high powered EU agency. Pursuant to a letter of Robert Donkers, Minister Counselor, Environment, Delegation of the European Union to India dated June 16, 2011. Donkers had responded saying "I have forwarded your e-mail and your comments to my European Commission colleagues in Brussels who are in charge of ship dismantling issues and have asked them to comment." TWA still awaits their reply and action in this regard.

It is sad that instead of regulating such companies and saving India’s ecosystem and human health from chemical exposure, Union Ministry of Chemicals appears to be endorsing hollow voluntary initiatives of the chemicals industry. It is shocking that the Ministry has yet to create an inventory of chemicals which are being used in India in a context where environmental and occupational health infrastructure is almost non-existent and most medical colleges ill-equipped to handle environmental and occupational diseases.

Like environmental groups world over, TWA has examined this initiative and its claims. It has found that it is an attempt to deceive the public and the government into believing in the responsibility of an irresponsible industry which is very harmful to the environment. It is a strategy to give the government an excuse for not doing its regulatory work. As long as Responsible Care’s connection with the industry associations is not severed and governmental intervention invited, it is not even a moral initiative. As long as the chemical industry does not transform it into a genuine regulatory scheme, it is just empty words or noises signifying nothing because it fails to improve industry's environmental performance or to gain the trust of the public eye.

Global turnover of the chemical industry is more than three trillion US dollars (3,000,000,000,000). That is a 3 followed by 12 zeros. If one were to visualize how big that is, just consider that three trillion seconds is more than 90,000 years. In Indian currency it is worth Rs 166,725, 000, 000, 00. This figure was referred to at the recent UN conference in Brazil. This trend is leading to heritable alterations in gene expressions besides diseases such as cancer, heart disease, reproductive and developmental disorders, asthma, autism, diabetes, degenerative diseases and mental health illnesses have been shown to have links to the pollution of air, water, soil and food, as well as toxic consumer products and wastes.

With the current size of approximately $108 billion, the Indian chemical industry accounts for about 3% of the global chemical industry.” By 2017, the India’s Planning Commission estimates that it could reach the size of $224 billion or $290 billion (about 6% of global industry). Indian chemical industry accounts for approximately 7% of Indian GDP. The share of industry in national exports is around 11%. In terms of volume, India is the third-largest producer of chemicals in Asia, after China and Japan. In value terms the size of the Indian pesticide industry alone was $3.8 billion in the year 2011 that produces even those pesticides which are banned in the developed countries.

Planning Commission 12th Plan document reveals that global chemicals sale was at $ 3.4 trillion in the Financial Year 2010. It observes, “The industry is increasingly moving eastwards in line with the shift of its key consumer industries (e.g. automotive, electronics, etc.) to leverage greater manufacturing competitiveness of emerging Asian economies and to serve the increasing local demand. This shift to countries like India which has limited capacity to manage and regulate these operations and without the compliance mechanisms to mitigate risks to human health and the environment is fraught with grave consequences.

As per World Health Organization (WHO)’s conservative estimate industrial and agricultural chemicals and acute chemical poisonings are responsible for 1.2 million deaths per year and at least 1.7 percent of the global burden of disease. The significant costs that these deaths and disease place on individuals, poor and most vulnerable communities and nations are not borne by the chemical producers or shared down the production supply chains. Instead, they impose an unacceptable burden on developing and transition countries. WHO has recognized that ‘Almost a quarter of all disease caused by environmental exposure’.

Indeed ‘fundamental changes are needed in the way that societies manage chemicals,’ including their design, use and ‘end of life’ because ‘living in a pollution-free world is a basic human right’. The fundamental right to life is threatened by exposures to toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes, and contaminated drinking water and food. It is noteworthy that a large majority of the pesticides and industrial chemicals currently in production and use have not been adequately tested for their impact on human health and the environment, particularly in the area of emerging concerns that challenge the central dogma of toxicology such as endocrine disruption, epigenetics, ongoing low dose exposures, and the impacts of chemicals mixtures. Epigenetics is the study of heritable alterations in gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in DNA sequence. An epigenetic trait is a stably inherited phenotype resulting from changes in a chromosome without alterations in the DNA sequence.

It is estimated that there are more than 7 million recognized chemicals are in existence worldwide. It is estimated that approximately 80,000 of them are in common use. Inventory of the chemicals which are being used in India is not in public domain. Chemicals are governed under the Manufacture, Storage and import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 which was amended in 2000. This Rule reveals that there were 429 chemicals in 1989 which Government of India recognized as hazardous and toxic. In 2000, it recognized 684 chemicals as hazardous. Are rest of the chemicals (assuming that there is a national list) safe for human health and environment? The fact is in India there is no inventory of chemicals used. Thus, an assessment of their environmental and occupational health impact is not available. Except for a handful of institutions most of the medical colleges in the country are yet to develop the competence to even diagnose the diseases caused by chemical exposures.

It is acknowledged that owing to their physical and chemical properties toxic chemicals are capable of producing major accidents hazards through oral route, skin route and inhalation route. Besides these there are flammable chemicals which are flammable gases, liquids or explosives. In such a scenario, there are at least two questions which merit answers. Has any agency within the country studied the impact of even the chemicals which are recognized as hazardous? Where are its findings? Has the exposed individuals been provided medical and legal remedy? Have chemicals recognized under the Insecticides Act, 1968, Insecticides Rules, 1971, Poisons Act, 1919, Drug and Cosmetics Act, 1940, Hazardous Wastes (Management , Handling and Transboundary Movement ) Rules, 2008 been included in the list of hazardous chemicals? The existing regulatory framework has not dealt with pesticides, industrial chemicals, chemicals waste, unintentionally produced chemicals and hazardous wastes in a holistic manner so far.

There is a Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness and Response) Rules, 1996 that deals with “an accident involving a fortuitous, or Sudden or unintended occurrence while handling any hazardous chemicals resulting in continuous, intermittent or repeated exposure to death, or injury to, any person or damage to any property but does not include an accident by reason only of war or radio-activity”. It also deals with major chemical accidents which includes “any particular major emission, fire or explosion involving one or more hazardous chemicals and resulting from uncontrolled developments in the course of industrial activity or transportation or due to natural events leading to serious effects both immediate or delayed, inside or outside the installation likely to cause substantial loss of life and property including adverse effects on the environment”.

But these laws do not deal with the issue of movement of chemicals throughout its life cycle which is a matter of concern. Even when they are used for supposedly beneficial purposes, they can turn up in such places in our food chain where they were never meant to go. Even those dangerous pesticides that have already been banned remain in international trade because some countries find it harmful others cherish it under the influence of the chemical companies disregarding health at risk.

No such study has been done in India but lack of study does not mean that hazardous chemicals and wastes are not flowing into the veins and arteries of the present generation and those which are still in the womb.

Taking congnisance of the gravity of the situation, world’s three leading treaties have initiated efforts for the sound management of hazardous chemicals and wastes. These UN treaties are Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions. This was long due. But in India there are no visible efforts to built synergies amongst the aspects of hazardous waste, hazardous chemicals and substances and persistent organic pollutants throughout their full life cycle: from their production, use and trade, to their disposal. This situation prevails despite having suffered world’s worst industrial disaster in the chemical pesticides industry in Bhopal. It is high time concerned ministries joined hands to launch human bio‐monitoring which is a method of assessing the toxic chemical burden increasingly borne by the life of the planet.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in its Fourth National Exposure Report detected 212 separate chemical substances including many persistent organic pollutants that are banned or strictly controlled by our conventions, in a survey of 2,400 randomly selected members of the American population, illustrates the threat we face. It may be noted that 75 of these chemicals were measured for the first time. Many are POPs that are travelers without passports and do not respect international borders.

While chemicals industries are listed as green house gases emitters their role in compromising the human health and soil heath is not accorded the priority it deserves. In India, the promotion of high yielding varieties that marked the green revolution led to large-scale use of chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers. This has turned states like Punjab into one of those states where incidence of cancer and other chemical exposure related diseases is quite rampant.

Dependence on chemicals has led to depletion of soil fertility and contamination of food crops. Pesticides use has gone up by several times in the past few decades, threatening food safety but Indian government is yet to put into place a well-planned and properly designed system for monitoring of contaminants in food and food products.

The use o pesticides leave residues in crops, air, water, and soil.

Safe food is a basic need that is fundamental to our health. However, in India these fundamental necessities have been taken for granted for too long, even as the threats to them have multiplied.

The direct economic and health losses suffered by farmers and the general public following a pollution-related health scare highlights the failure to address environmental problems at its source is a false economy wherein chemical companies pay scant regard to our health and quality of food. These problems are easily preventable through investment in environmental infrastructure, improved technical measures, better enforcement of existing regulations and better education. The present life and health-threatening situation cannot be tolerated for long. The policy decisions on sectors such as industry & agriculture, should ensure that the effects of those decisions work for, rather than against, environmental and health policies. Citizens have a right to safe environmental and public health. But government and corporations seem to have forgotten that human health is non-negotiable. There is an inexplicable callousness towards the impact of health from chemicals and wastes, which is far more serious and there is certainty about their adverse impact.

Although belated work towards this end has started at the global level with the UN’s Ad Hoc Joint Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation and Coordination between the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. In pursuance of the aim of environmentally sound management of chemicals that deals with strategy for action on chemical safety, Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety was formed at the conference of UN’s International Conference on Chemical Safety in 1994 and subsequently Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) has been developed and adopted in February 2006.

Despite such efforts at global level, how is it that in India the concern for food safety, body burden and human security does not get the priority it deserves. This compromises food safety that ranges from farm to food chain safety. Toxic chemicals can cause a variety of adverse health effects. Exposure during key phases of foetal development can be particularly damaging. Persistent organic pollutants cause a range of health problems, even at low levels of exposure, including reproductive and developmental disorders, damage to the immune and nervous systems, and a range of cancers.

India has ratified all the three conventions and has adopted SAICM but its implementation leaves a lot to be desired. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) which is the statutory body tasked with preventing and controlling pollution has been reduced to a “near-defunct body”. This was the finding of the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forests. This was bound to be so because the environment ministry has been kept structurally weak.

So far there is no forum in India that measures the Body Burden to back trace the origin of the chemicals and wastes in order to ascertain legal and medical remedy in case of deadly substances reaching people in a routine manner.

Stopping of transboundary movement of hazardous substances without creating an inventory of hazardous chemicals and wastes is not possible. Besides there is a need to conduct an environmental health audit along with the ministry of health to ascertain the body burden through investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in umbilical cord blood. In a study in the US, of the 287 chemicals detected in umbilical cord blood, 180 were known to cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. Absence of such studies in India does not mean that a similar situation does not exist in India. Until and unless we diagnose the current unacknowledged crisis, how will he regulatory bodies predict, prevent and provide remedy.

In such a backdrop, Global Common Statement for a Toxics-Free Future issued by civil society organizations informed delegates of Rio+20 about the need for curbing the rising tide of toxic chemicals building up in our bodies, and those of our children, which threaten the health and sustainability of the next generation and beyond by substitution and elimination of hazardous substances, polluter pays and extended producer responsibility. It calls for a profound transformation of the chemical industry where the protection of workers, indigenous peoples, community health and the environment are not sacrificed to profit. It argues for cost internalization mechanisms and fiscal reforms, which truly reflect ecological values can assist in this and help provide the resources needed for the development of sound chemicals management policy, assessment, monitoring and practices. It calls for mandatory labeling of hazardous substances in products and in the workplace, ensuring the protection of all people and the environment and demands full chemical and material ingredient transparency and information access throughout supply chains and with the public.

The million dollar question is: when someone enters our houses without permission, it is deemed criminal tress pass but when hazardous chemicals enter our body why is that the companies responsible are not held criminally liable. There is a crying need for legal and medical remedy from chemical trespass which is defined as the involuntary introduction of toxic chemicals into the human body of the present and future generations.

There s a lot of work to be done to achieve a global phase-out of hazardous, unmanageable chemicals including highly hazardous pesticides, persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs), very persistent and very bioaccumulative substances (vPvBs), genotoxins, carcinogens, chemicals affecting reproduction, the immune and nervous systems, endocrine disruptors, substances that undergo long-range transport, toxic metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead and hazardous nanomaterials.

A global phase out is essential in order to avoid banned and restricted chemicals from one country being sold or dumped in another, particularly in those countries that do not have the capacity to enforce sound management of chemicals.

Joe DiGangi, a well known chemical experts from the Secretariat of International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network argued in his intervention at Rio+20, “If the global industry paid a 0.1% tax each year, then more than $ 3 billion (Rs 16672500000) would be available for financing the global chemicals agenda annually. The money needed to assure that chemicals are safely managed is, ultimately, the responsibility of chemical producing industries.”

“A global cost recovery system is needed…also take forms such as sub-regional and regional… Given the trans-national nature of the chemicals industry and its markets, purely national approaches to cost-recovery could be very difficult, even for large, highly industrialized countries...For these and other reasons, a global approach would be preferred. We believe that the time has come for the industry to pay its fair share,” submitted DiGangi at the recent UN meeting.

There is need to create a mandatory Integrated Chemical Legislation in India for safe use of chemicals for protection of human health and environment in place of multiple legislations that governs the chemical industry that covers the entire life cycle of chemicals instead of voluntary certifications.

Although quite belated Planning Commission’s recent document underlines the need for developing a chemical inventory, a listing of industrial chemicals manufactured in, or imported by, a country created from information submitted to government authorities by manufacturers, processors, users, and importers. Such an inventory can allow authorities to maintain an updated overview of chemicals marketed in their country, reveal whether substance manufactured is used within a country or exported therefore the applicability of new research knowledge to the country and identify risk zones to facilitate the setting of risk reduction priorities. It is noteworthy that in USA $2 million was required to set up their chemical inventory database and $9 million to implement it.

The Commission has proposed that the government allocate a budget of Rs 50 crore for the establishment of the Indian chemical inventory during the 12th plan period. It has recommended that after the setting up of the chemical inventory, the government will also need to allocate a budget to keep the database current. It cites US example which spends $400,000 annually to maintain their database.

But the Commission has forgotten to allocate budget for database of victims of diseases caused by exposure to chemicals, for the required health infrastructure and the legal remedy for the liability of companies that knowingly poison food chain, human body and even the embryo in the mother’s womb. It feigns ignorance about the US example in this regard. This defeats the very purpose of having an inventory of chemicals.

There is a compelling rationale for Indian ministry of health, labour, environment and chemicals to strengthen the regulatory framework by initiating a medical test of concerned ministers, legislators, Planning Commission members and senior officials so that it reveals them their own chemical ‘body burden’ and its far reaching adverse impact.

Taking above facts into account it can be safely inferred that the Responsible Care neither serves the environment nor the long term business interest of the industry in its current form.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), E-mail-krishna1715@gmail.com, Mb: 9818089660, Web: toxicswatch.blogspot.com

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