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States and businesses must do more to realize the right to information about hazardous substances – UN expert

GENEVA (17 September 2015) – “People have a right to know whether they are being exposed to hazardous substances or may be harmed by them,” United Nations human rights expert, Baskut Tuncak, said today, while calling on States and business enterprises to do more to realize the right to information about hazardous substances and wastes.

“Unfortunately, often, individuals do not realize that hazardous substances are found in the course of their daily lives,” the UN Special Rapporteur on hazardous substance and waste said during the presentation of his latest report on right to information in the context of hazardous substances and wastes at the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council.*

Hazardous substances from human activity can be found in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the products we buy, and the places we live, play and work. A myriad of adverse effects, including cancer and other non-communicable diseases, are linked to the exposure to hazardous substances.

“Securing adequate information about hazardous substances remains an incessant global problem,” Mr. Tuncak noted. “Today, information is neither available nor accessible about the safety of tens of thousands of chemicals on the market, the potential sources of exposure to substances with known and unknown hazards, the amount of human exposure to hazardous substances, and the impacts of exposure to a large number of hazardous substances starting from conception.”

During his presentation, the independent expert explained that the right to information requires that facts be both available and accessible about hazardous substances. “For instance, information should be accessible at the time of purchase and when using a product containing hazardous substances,” he said.

“Furthermore, information must work to prevent harm, to enable democratic decision-making and to ensure accountability, access to justice and an effective remedy to those affected in a manner consistent with the principle of non-discrimination”, he stressed. In his report, the expert explained that information should be collected, assessed and imparted in a manner consistent with the principle of non-discrimination, illustrating disproportionate impacts on children, workers, indigenous peoples and other particularly at-risk groups.

To ensure that individuals can effectively understand and exercise their right to information about hazardous substances and wastes, Mr. Tuncak highlighted that “States must generate, collect, assess and update information on hazardous substances and wastes, and to disseminate information to those who may be adversely affected.”

“Businesses have a responsibility to conduct human rights due diligence which includes assessments of actual and potential impacts, and communicating information about potential risks and mitigation measures related to hazardous substance,” he added.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full report (A/HRC/30/40): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/ToxicWastes/Pages/Righttoinformation.aspx

Mr. Baskut Tuncak (Turkey) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/ToxicWastes/Pages/SRToxicWastesIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For enquiries and media requests, please contact Ahreum Lee (+41 22 917 9391/ ahreumlee@ohchr.org) or write to srtoxicwaste@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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