Letter to the Editor, Your Opinion column, The Star newspaper (28/2/22)
Below is the unedited version of my letter published on 28/2/22 in The Star newspaper.
Dear Editor, dear Fellow Malaysians,
Chemicals, waste, and pollution is a critical issue that will be discussed at this week’s United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA5.2) in Nairobi, Kenya (28 Feb – 2 Mar 2022).
More specifically, over 10 countries will call to establish an intergovernmental science-policy body on chemicals, waste, and pollution.
As an environmental scientist, I am hopeful that Malaysia too will back this initiative.
To this end, I sent letters and emails over four weeks ago to the Ministry of Environment and Water and several other policymakers, requesting their support. These letters were part of a campaign led by the International Panel on Chemical Pollution made up of independent scientists.
In these letters, I and several local NGOs urged our policymakers to consider the effects of chemicals, waste, and pollution on the rakyat and the impact it has had on our society and environment.
For example, Malaysians have suffered the impacts of water disruptions due to chemical pollution . We are no doubt tired of reading about discoveries of toxic waste dumps , and yet another shipment of tonnes of hazardous waste landing on our shores .
However, these are just the effects on a macro scale.
Ample scientific research has shown that individual exposure to chemicals in our daily lives is widespread and a significant cause for concern.
Whether through house dust , food containers , blood , and even breastmilk , the over 350,000 chemicals registered for use on the global market worldwide  are making their way into our bodies. 16% of worldwide deaths are attributed to chemical exposure , not to mention their contribution to the onset of cancers, neurological diseases, and other illnesses.
And let us not forget the impacts on our ecosystems and the environment – a recent study of pharmaceutical pollution in the world’s rivers has been making international headlines . This is just one of many studies going back decades confirming what my colleagues and I have long known – chemicals are in our waters, our animals, our babies, and in ourselves.
Efforts to soundly manage chemicals through various multilateral environmental agreements (e.g., Basel, Minamata, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions) have had varied success, but are overall too fragmented and cover a very limited scope. The most recent international initiative – the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management – was only voluntary, and its mandate expired in 2020.
Now more than ever, we need an intergovernmental science-policy body addressing chemicals, waste and pollution .
The emphasis on ‘science-policy’ will be crucial – policies to manage chemicals throughout their life cycle should be informed by the latest and most rigorous scientific findings. Scientists and policymakers must work together on horizon scanning, early warning mechanisms, and mutually communicate findings and policy developments .
Chemicals, waste, and pollution know no boundaries, and a concerted international effort is needed to tackle their impacts on national, regional, and global levels.
I remain hopeful that Malaysia will show leadership and join its international counterparts in supporting the resolution at this week’s UNEA5.2.
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