Harmonized chemicals labelling for everyday lives

14 April, 2011, Danstan Kaunda

Globally Harmonized System (GHS)

Chemicals are a part of our everyday lives. They have played a major role in the development of human societies – in agriculture and food; in industry and transport; in our homes and in health.

Extraordinary advances in chemical technology have been made throughout the world in the past half century.

In Africa, South Africa and Egypt in the north are taking the lead in manufacturing of non-organic chemical and verity chemical products.

Manufacturing of chemicals has become far more complex, increasing the number of new chemicals and chemical substances that are entering the international market each year.[frax09alpha]

And as the economic of Zambia grows with the much talked about B+ economic credit rating, the country is importing a lot of chemicals mostly of manufacturing of detergents and fertilisers in agriculture.

According to the US-based independent environment group Blacksmith Institute, Zambia is among the top countries where chemical pollution is high.

“An estimated 12 million people are affected by severe pollution, Zambia included, which was mainly caused by, metal and mining industries,” the report said.

In spite of the modernity that comes with the use of chemicals and chemical products, society has been a victim of the hazardous nature of chemicals.

The cycle of management dealing with chemicals includes manufacturing, processing, transportation, storage, distribution, use or handling and disposal of chemical waste.

Given the increase in the importation of chemicals, chemical products and its usage in the country, Zambia’s Environmental Council (ECZ) has since last year been implementing a project called Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for classification and labelling of chemicals.

It’s a new initiative by the United Nation Environment Programme aimed at making a contribution to the implementation of international chemicals management agreement in line with the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions and Montreal Protocol that focus on the labelling of chemicals as an important of building block for sound chemicals management and trade in chemicals.

Labelling of chemicals in Zambia would greatly reduce the risks posed by chemicals. It is unfortunate that only about 2 per cent of those directly in contact with chemicals and its products fully comprehend the hazard labels in use in industry, transport and agriculture.

The ECZ together with other policy makers and civil socials like the Energy Regulation Board (ERB), Zambia Agro-chemicals Association (ZAA), the Pharmacy and Poison Board and the concerned individual consumers among others are consulting to come up with legal and administrative guidelines for the national development and implementation of national chemical communication action plan.

David Kapindula, ECZ manager-inspectorate, points out that a bureau had been established comprising chairpersons of the four thematic working groups.

These laws contain guidelines on how classification, labelling, and packaging of chemical should be done.

“Actual project implementation commenced in November last year which was followed by a Training of Training,” Kapindula said.

This will imply that chemicals come with labels, safety data sheets from their countries of origin. Repackaging may be done but this would require new labels for the new containers.

Following the sell-off of the state-owned Industrial Development Corporation of Zambia Limited (INDECO) in the 1990’s that forced on developing a number of enterprises dealing in chemical-fertiliser plant, an explosives plant, a glass-bottle factory and a battery factory, the local market has now been out with the private sectors taking the front row.

Just recently a team of 30 Egyptian businessmen dealing in chemical products was in the country under the Zambian-Egyptian Chemicals Business Forum.

Head of delegation Hani Cassis said the team was in Zambia under the umbrella of Chemical Fertiliser Export Council (CFEC) of Egypt to explore areas of investments in the booming Zambia economy.

The group that comprised of officials from the glass, paper packaging, chemical adhesive, fertiliser and polythene companies plan to invest an initial US$5 billion (about K24 trillion Zambian Kwacha).

Hani said: “We will invest in the Zambian fertiliser and chemical sector and support existing producers to boost their competitiveness.”

According to the Zambian GHS Consumer Technical Working group, the timing of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) could not have come at a better time as it will enable the reviewing of existing legislation on chemical hazard communication and strengthening the law by demanding labels that are uniform.

“The levels of public awareness on hazards are extremely low. Only about one per cent of the population are aware of the likelihood of hazards posed by chemical. A deliberate awareness strategy, using labels understood by an average person,”

Zambia’s chemical industry contributed 11 per cent of the country’s total manufacturing revenue according to government figures, largely through imports of oil industry and consequently little petrochemical activity.

The non-operational Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia was the largest non-mining operation in the country supplying chemical products such fertilisers and other produce such as ammonium nitrate, nitric acid, ammonium sulphate, methanol, compound fertilisers and liquid carbon dioxide, amongst others.

“Actual project implementation commenced in November last year which was followed by a Training of Training.” Kapindula said.

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