To protect human health we need to ensure that chemicals are safe to use. BiH ESAP 2030+, the project which is creating an environmental strategy and action plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina, has taken chemical safety as one of the top priorities. We talked to chemical safety experts Melina Džajić-Valjevac, MSc, and Borislav Malinović, PhD, and asked them to give an overview of the current state of the chemical safety situation in BiH and explain how these issues relate to our daily lives.

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Are chemicals managed well in BiH, and how do you foresee that the new environmental strategy and action plan will improve the management? In regards to this, we know that the jurisdictions in BiH have worked differently with this issue, how will ESAP aim to harmonize this?

The management of chemicals, as an area of environmental protection, is the responsibility of the entities, and the Brčko District of BiH, thus the situation is different in these three jurisdictions. In Republika Srpska for example, the relevant legislation which regulate this area was adopted in 2009 and it has been applied ever since. In the Federation of BiH, the first Law on Chemicals entered into force in 2020, and the Law on Biocides and all relevant by-laws are being drafted. In the Brčko District of BiH, these laws have not been adopted yet. As you may see, the situation in BiH varies and this causes multiple difficulties in the chemicals management on the BiH market.

The Strategy and Action Plan will primarily aim at harmonising the regulations of the institutions responsible for the chemical safety in both entities and the Brčko District of BiH. On the other hand, the Strategy and Action Plan seek to ensure that BiH sets about ratifying the remaining international conventions and obligations in the chemical safety area, such as Minamata Convention on mercury or Kigali amendments to the Montreal Protocol on ozone depleting substances. The Strategy and Action Plan will also address the need to provide for a routine compliance with the obligations under the conventions and international agreements signed.

Chemicals – a hazard to human life   

What kind of risks does poor chemical management pose to human health and the environment?

The level of risk can vary depending on the type of chemicals, including acute poisoning to chronical health problems. Since recently the science has been increasingly concerned over the exposure of the public to persistent organic polluters, as their prolonged intake in very small concentrations can severely affect the nervous system, in form of poor memory and coordination, reduced visual capacity, poor quality of reflex and motor skills.

A proper management of chemicals, including hazardous chemicals, enables controlled monitoring of their life cycle, including their production, storing and transport to the place of final consumption to ensure that they are handled in a way which does not have any adverse effect on human health or environment. This requires access to and use of the best available scientific knowledge on risk assessment, and the right of the public to have access to necessary information on properties of chemicals and their compounds. It also requires restrictions on the use of substances which have been identified as posing an excessive risk.

When and where are the citizens most often exposed to (hazardous) chemicals in their daily lives?

According to to the unique database Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) which is part of the American Chemical Society there are currently over 189 million organic and inorganic substances, including alloys, coordination compounds, minerals, mixtures, polymers, and salts disclosed in publications since the early 1800s. In addition to the chemicals we use in industry and agriculture, people are daily exposed to various hazardous chemicals which they use in households, and which may also affect vulnerable groups such as children and pregnant women. All products, among others the general use products, without proper label indicating the risk and instruction on product disposal, pose a risk to human health and environment.

In daily activities we use personal hygiene products, cleaning agents and disinfectants, various object of polymer and textile which may contain hazardous chemicals. These include persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals, including cadmium, lead or mercury, substances which can harm the human endocrine system, etc.

Work with harmful materials / Getty Images.

Ensuring safe production and use

Is BiH ESAP 2030+ aiming to tackle the issue of having several hot spots of old unsafe chemical industries in BiH?

There are several sites where the presence of hazardous substances has been identified, which are most often the old industrial sites. The Strategy and Action Plan aims to provide for an inventory of these sites with a clear and specific plan of their decontamination. This primarily applies to the sites with legacy persistent organic pollutants, such as PCB, sites contaminated with asbestos or other hazardous chemicals or waste.

How do we ensure the safe use of chemical products? What do we need to think about from a producer’s perspective and from a citizen’s perspective?

Given that some chemicals and their compounds are labelled as hazardous, we need to make sure that they do not pose a risk to humans and environment. We can do so by complying with all chemicals management’s relevant regulations and requirements. To this end, data on the identity and risks of chemicals must be available and understandable for citizens as well as all others in the chain of supply, including manufacturers who must provide for a safe working environment.

It is also necessary to continuously work on campaigns aimed at enhancing knowledge of the users of chemicals and chemical products on the risks that these products may pose for them and their families.

More about the BiH ESAP 2030+ environmental strategy

The primary goal of the BiH ESAP2030+ project is to support the authorities of BiH, FBiH, RS and BD in the ESAP development. The ESAP document will comprise environmental strategies and action plans for FBiH, RS and BD, and actions that will be taken at the level of BiH. On a long-term basis, the project will improve the environment in BiH and support BiH on its path to EU membership.

The contents of the ESAP will address the following seven areas of the Environmental Acquis: Water; Waste; Biodiversity and Nature Conservation; Air Quality, Climate Change and Energy, Chemical Safety and Noise; Sustainable Resource Management; and Environmental Management.

The BiH ESAP2030+ project is implemented by Stockholm Environment Institute with the financial support of the Embassy of Sweden in BiH.

The interview was initially published on the portal on October 14, 2021.