PARIS (IPS/GIN) – A group of scientists, including several Nobel laureates in medicine, is urging the industrialized world to slash chemical pollution to protect human health.
In the so-called Paris Appeal presented in the French capital earlier in November, the scientists call for “banning all products that are certainly or probably carcinogenic as specified by competent international scientific authorities and organizations.” The scientists underline that such chemical substances, despite the proven danger they represent, are still present in pesticides and other products widely used in intensive agriculture, in numerous domestic electronic devices, cosmetics and even medicines.
The Paris Appeal was first formulated in 2004 during a meeting at the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In the new version of the paper, the authors develop 164 measures to drastically reduce chemical pollution that they say is threatening human survival. “Chronic diseases registered by WHO (World Health Organization), especially cancers, are increasing alarmingly,” the document says.
“This general deterioration of health is the bill we have to pay for the pollution that we produce,” Dominique Belpomme, a leading French cancer expert who initiated the Paris Appeal, told IPS. “The concept of sustainable development is not enough to offset the pollution’s health dangers. We need to associate with it the concept of sustainable health, indivisibly linked with a real environmental policy.”
Among the signatories to the appeal are French Nobel prize laureates in medicine Jean Dausset (1980) and Francois Jacob (1965) as well as hundreds of other European scientists representing most of the medical associations from all 25 European Union (EU) country members, hundreds of non-governmental organizations, and some 150,000 European citizens.
The appeal comes ahead of the European Parliament meeting in which the new European regulation on chemicals–the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) system–is expected to be approved. The European Parliament is scheduled to vote on REACH the week of Dec. 11.
“REACH will provide a high level of protection of human health and the environment,” according to the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU. “At the same time, it will enhance the competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry by fostering innovation and ensuring high safety standards for its products.”
Under REACH, chemicals presenting a certain level of danger would not be permitted for ongoing use except in cases where the chemical serves an essential social role and there are no effective alternatives.
In their appeal, Mr. Belpomme and his colleagues are calling on the EU to “reinforce the REACH program so as to ensure substitution of the most dangerous chemicals for man with less dangerous substitutes.” The document urges the rest of the world to adopt “international regulations to control the marketing of chemicals following the REACH program in a reinforced version.”
The Paris Appeal also calls for more attention to the health dangers represented by pesticides and phthalates, chemical additives widely used in plastics, home devices, medicine and cosmetics, mainly to make them soft and flexible.
New research shows that “many newborns at the moment of their birth are already contaminated with more than 200 chemical substances,” Mr. Belpomme added. “Up to 75 percent of cancers are provoked by chemical pollution.”
Charles Sultan, toxicologist in the French Mediterranean city Montpellier, told IPS: “I have found up to 300 chemical substances in the blood of the umbilical cord in newborn babies. These substances are responsible for endocrinal perturbations, from genetic deformations to growth problems and brain development.”
Similar findings have been reported elsewhere in Europe. Henrik Leffers, a researcher at the Copenhagen University Hospital’s department for growth and reproduction who helped present the Paris Appeal, stressed that human exposure to phthalates “is a major cause of chemical poisoning.”
According to the French National Research Institute on Health Safety, some three million tons of phthalates are produced every year worldwide.
“From animal studies increasingly more evidence is pointing to the fact that the phthalates constitute a health menace,” Mr. Leffers said.
“When I say phthalates, most people think of plastic bags and toys for children and things like that, but the exposure comes from cosmetics,” he pointed out. “Of the creams and oils you rub on your skin, a substantial part will be absorbed through the skin and further into the bloodstream and affect all organs, and it is here where the exposure of phthalates comes from.”
The scientists emphasize also that radical reform of the European agricultural policy is needed, including a move to organic agriculture, free of pesticides and other chemical components.