‘Follow science’ to protect lives – UN expert: Toxics exposure

OHCHR

A UN human rights expert today urged States to follow the science with respect to exposure to toxic substances, calling out companies that manipulate information to keep their products on the market.

Disinformation about scientific evidence on hazardous substances has become a powerful tool for manipulating public understanding and debate, generating confusion and doubt and resulting in mistrust in science, UN Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes Marcos Orellana told the Human Rights Council.

“Certain businesses specialize in purposefully sowing uncertainty and misunderstanding in society, in direct violation of the right to science,” he said. “Denial, misdirection, and distortion tactics are used to keep products on the market despite the risks and harms they pose. This is taking place at the expense of proper protections for human rights.”

“The right to science requires that governments adopt and align measures to prevent exposure to hazardous substances on the basis of the best available scientific evidence.” The right to science also requires that governments take steps to correct the public record or issue clarifications when scientific information is misrepresented.

He emphasized that scientific breakthroughs regarding harmful substances or processes should lead governments to adopt effective and timely measures to provide protection to their populations.

“The right to science implies an enabling environment where scientific freedoms may be realized and where governments promote and support scientific research on toxic substances that endanger public health and the environment,” Orellana said.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the right to the benefits of scientific development and its applications. The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights expands on this fundamental right. The right to science implies that scientific information be available and accessible, and it enables the development of evidence-based policies to address threats posed by hazardous substances.

Orellana’s report highlights how States and other stakeholders should join efforts to establish a global science-policy interface platform on chemicals and waste that is free of conflicts of interest. Such a platform could raise global awareness of the serious toxification of the planet, identify emerging issues of concern and produce authoritative scientific assessments to prevent exposure to harmful chemicals and waste.

“In the specific context of toxic substances, the right to science provides humanity with tools to confront the severe toxification of the planet and overcome the triple environmental crisis of pollution, climate change and loss of nature,” he said.

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