With pollution causing more deaths than COVID, action needed, says UN expert

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GENEVA – State and corporate pollution contribute to more deaths worldwide than COVID-19, according to a UN environmental report released on Tuesday, calling for “immediate and ambitious action” to ban certain toxic chemicals .

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The report says pollution from pesticides, plastics and e-waste causes widespread human rights abuses as well as at least 9 million premature deaths a year, and the problem is widely ignored.

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed nearly 5.9 million lives, according to data aggregator Worldometer.

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“Current approaches to managing the risks posed by pollution and toxic substances are clearly failing, leading to widespread violations of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment,” concluded the report’s author, the UN Special Rapporteur. United, David Boyd.

Due to be presented next month to the UN Human Rights Council, which has declared a clean environment a human right, the document was posted on the council’s website on Tuesday.

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He urges a ban on polyfluoroalkyls and perfluoroalkyls, synthetic substances used in household products such as nonstick cookware that have been linked to cancer and dubbed “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily.

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It also recommends the cleanup of polluted sites and, in extreme cases, the possible relocation of affected communities – many of whom are poor, marginalized and indigenous – from so-called “sacrifice zones”.

This term, originally used to describe nuclear test areas, has been expanded in the report to include any heavily contaminated site or place rendered uninhabitable by climate change.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet has called environmental threats the world’s biggest rights challenge, and a growing number of climate and environmental justice cases are successfully invoking human rights.

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