Volume 87 Issue 22 | Web Exclusive
Issue Date: June 1, 2009

Handling Chemical Incidents In The Developing World

Department: Government & Policy
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: WHO, environmental health, managing chemicals

From overturned tanker trucks to explosions at industrial plants, chemical incidents can stress health officials who are trying to protect the public from harmful exposures. These strains are particularly severe in developing countries where health professionals often lack the training to respond to chemical incidents. Yet in these nations, chemical use, processing, and production are growing rapidly.

Chemical incidents aren't just big, obvious accidents like derailed tank cars, Kersten Gutschmidt of the Public Health & Environment Department at the World Health Organization (WHO) told reporters at the recent International Conference on Chemicals Management. Some chemical events are identified only when public health officials report people becoming sick or dying, she said.

For example, nearly 500 people in Angola were poisoned in 2007 after sodium bromide was confused with table salt and introduced into the food supply, Gutschmidt said. This year, 18 children in Senegal died after their community was polluted with lead from battery recycling.

Now, to help health professionals in developing countries expand their expertise to address all sorts of chemical incidents, WHO is offering a new manual. It focuses on prevention of, preparation for, and response to chemical incidents.

The manual is an empowering tool that can bring major benefits to the public, said Gary Coleman of the WHO Coordinating Centre at the U.K.'s Health Protection Agency.

"Chemicals are so important to our whole world now. They're the backbone of our standards of living," Coleman told reporters.

But, he says, "there is a risk in putting some of these chemicals together, storing them, transporting them, distributing them." The goal of the manual, according to Coleman, is to minimize the risk and save communities from potential harm.

The "WHO Manual for the Public Health Management of Chemical Incidents" is available at who.int/environmental_health_emergencies/
publications/Manual_Chemical_Incidents/en/index.html
.

 
 

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © American Chemical Society

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