Women exposed to toxic chemicals, needs more attention

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DHAKA, June 3, 2021 (BSS) – Women are increasingly exposed to toxic chemicals in the country but the issue of their chemical protection is not getting attention yet, resulting a rapid rise of lethal diseases like cancer among them, according to experts.

They mentioned that all people, irrespective of gender identity, must have the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities in order to achieve the sound management of chemicals and wastes, and both are vital to achieve the majority of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Talking to BSS, Razinara Begum, Director of the Environment Department, said the government is providing special focus on health of the workers at the factories.

“We are strictly monitoring the health issues in the factories. At the time of giving environmental clearance certificate, we ask factory owners to ensure health safety for all workers,” she added.

She informed that the government is planning to formulate a guideline for using chemical in factories.

Sara Brosche, science advisor of the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), in a recent article said “Men and women are quite visibly involved in almost every sector of chemical such as in textile, household, laboratory work, biomedical, agriculture, waste management, etc. The scenario on gender and chemical in Bangladesh is quite visible.”

In general, very little is known about the part women plays regarding this issue. In Bangladesh, women are mostly affected by chemicals than man as they handle the works are directly related to chemicals and part of the issue is the lack of standardized occupational code and standard wages. Women are highly exposed to chemicals not only in workplace but also in other sectors, the article read.

Since women and men have different physiological susceptibilities as well as different roles in society, gender plays an important role in chemical and waste management. Chemical protection is not universal in today’s world, and the effects of chemical exposure vary depending on a variety of factors, such as geographic location, behavioral habits, age, nutritional status, biological impact, and/or simultaneous exposure to multiple chemicals.

Sara said women are generally more disproportionally impacted by exposure to chemicals and wastes and have less access to participation in decision making. “Women are also key agents of change. Women and chemicals is an underexplored topic that deserves more attention,” she added.

Talking to BSS, Siddika Sultana, executive director of the Environment and Social Development Organisation (ESDO), said women are most vulnerable to chemicals exposure at their workplaces.

“The women of Bangladesh are being affected by chemicals in different job sectors but still there are no significant study regarding this issue. Also, the population’s risk of being exposed to harmful chemicals and waste has risen due to a lack of knowledge and law enforcement on the reduction and elimination of dangerous substances,” she added.

She said chemical exposure also varies according to gender roles, posing various risks to both men and women.

As a result, raising physical and social awareness along with strict enforcement of laws is an urgent now to prevent the issue of chemical exposure, she said.

Sultana said in plastic sector, despite having growing concern due to toxic chemical emissions from plastics and the urgent need to develop systems for solid waste management and recycling, limited attention has been paid to understanding the role women play.

The incredibility of women within this industry has serious consequences on the effectiveness and sustainable management and recycling of solid waste, she added.

Siddika said governments and donor agencies often ignore the gender dimension of waste disposal and their limited efforts tend to strengthen traditional gender roles in the value chain, without any view of women’s progress.

She said management of electronic waste (e-waste) often deems males as the most significant in e- waste collection, informal recycling and management stakeholders, while women are also key stakeholders and should also have first-hand access to information on health hazards associated with e- waste.

“Women and children are highly involved in e-waste collection and further recycling in most developing countries, so they are at risk of exposure to toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury, brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride released from burning cables, acid baths, and other activities such as breaking apart soldered components,” she added.

Sultana said waste collectors are highly exposed to different chemicals, including household wastes, medical wastes and e-wastes.

“Recently, in this pandemic situation, the generation of medical wastes has highly increased and workers who deal with these are most valuable. It is a sad truth that most of the workers who sort out or work with these wastes are women and children. They work with bare hand and without protection makes them exposed to different types of hazardous chemicals which causes different health problems,” she added.

Besides, Sultana said women are involved in domestic works in and around the home, including collecting, removing and disposing of household waste, which in many cases includes open burning and improper disposal.

“This practice exposes women to highly toxic persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals with significant health impacts. As we all know, these chemicals pass to fetus of pregnant women and put their lives at risk,” she added.