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About toxics and human rights

Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights

Hazardous substances from human activity affect multiple areas of human's everyday living. Toxics are often found in the food people eat, in the air they breathe, in the water they drink, and in the places they work and call home. This harmful exposure is linked to various forms of cancer, reproductive abnormalities, lung diseases, diabetes and learning disabilities, among other adverse health impacts.

Our incessant exposure to toxic substances from a multitude of sources directly implicates our human rights to life. It prevents us from reaching the highest attainable standard of health. Exposure to toxics also blocks access to physical integrity, to safe water and food, to adequate housing, and—in an increasing number of States—the right to a healthy environment.

Especially at risk: poverty-stricken, indigenous, workers, migrants, minorities, women, children

Exposure to toxic and otherwise hazardous substance often affects the most vulnerable populations, among them people living in poverty, indigenous peoples, workers, migrants and minorities. The rights of women and children are frequently implicated by cases of exposure to toxics.

Arguably, the most at-risk segment of the population is children. Pediatricians sadly describe a number of children as born pre-polluted, resulting in a "silent pandemic" of diseases, disabilities and pre-mature death around the world. Hundreds of children are found to have hundreds of toxic chemicals in their bodies even before they are born. Scientists have linked higher levels of certain cancers and other adverse health impacts to increased production, use and consumption of toxic chemicals in the past decades.

Many cases of human rights abuses are perpetrated by businesses. They involve the poisoning of communities, workers and consumers with toxic substances. These abuses are a result of extractive industries, pesticide use in agriculture, industrial chemicals in manufacturing, emissions from power plants, factories, vehicles, and other sources—and of course the improper disposal of waste.