United Nations Environment Programme environment for development
Harmful Substances

Tens of thousands of chemicals used in a range of products and industrial processes are an intrinsic part of modern life. Many products which have contributed to making our lifestyles more comfortable, including domestic appliances, detergents, pharmaceuticals, personal computers, involve the use of chemicals to varying degrees. Chemicals are also an essential component of industrial production and are used in sectors ranging from agriculture and mining to manufacturing.



Besides the benefits chemicals bring for the economy, trade and employment, the rapid increase in their use and build up in our environment also comes at a price for human health and wildlife, if not managed effectively. Potential adverse impacts on humans include acute poisoning and even long term effects such as cancers, neurological disorders and birth defects. For the environment, harmful chemicals can trigger eutrophication of water bodies, ozone depletion and pose a threat to sensitive ecosystems and biodiversity.

Industrial processes and rising consumption have also led to a rapid increase in generation of hazardous wastes. These wastes not only pose risks and hazards because of their nature but also have the potential to contaminate large quantities of otherwise non-hazardous wastes if allowed to get mixed.

It is increasingly recognised that the sound management of chemicals throughout their lifecycle as well as the proper segregation, treatment and disposal of hazardous wastes are critical to the protection of vulnerable ecosystems, biodiversity and the livelihoods and health of communities.

To address concerns related to harmful substances and hazardous waste, UNEP promotes chemical safety and provides countries with access to information on toxic chemicals, and promotes chemical safety by providing policy advice, technical guidance and capacity building to developing countries and those with economies in transition.