Chemical management training helps small islands tackle big problems

Specialised training in the best-practice management of hazardous chemicals is helping island countries to protect the health of communities and the environment.

The countries and territories of the Pacific are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effect of improper chemical management due to poorly maintained storage facilities, limited resource capacity and the porous nature of many of the islands which threatens their water security. This vulnerability is exacerbated by the region's exposure to storm surges and tropical cyclones.

A new training programme developed in collaboration by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the University of the South Pacific (USP), is teaching laboratory workers, science teachers, and others how to safely store, handle, use and dispose of dangerous chemicals.

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Pictured above: Participants at the Best Practice Chemical Management Training in Kiribati undertake an inventory exercise. Photo: Steven Sutcliffe/USP

Ms Lusiana Ralogaivau, SPREP's GEF Project Coordinator, explains that poor chemical management in the Pacific is a hidden, yet surprisingly common issue:

"The improper management of chemicals can cause great damage to the environment, and to human health. A worst-case scenario can result in explosions or contamination and can have a devastating impact on marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Also, the improper disposal of some chemicals can result in the release of Persistent Organic Pollutants - known as POPs - which, over time, have a negative impact on both human health and ecosystem functioning."

As well as protecting human health and the environment, the training addresses an important capacity gap that has prevented Pacific island countries from fulfilling their obligations under the Stockholm Convention - a global treaty, adopted in 2001, which is designed to protect human health and the environment from POPs.

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Pictured above: The improper management of chemicals can cause great damage to the environment, and to human health. Photo: (c) Dr Bruce Graham

At the May 2016 training in Vanuatu, Dr Johann Poinapen, Director of the Institute of Applied Science at USP, was able to observe the value of training first-hand:

"The training was a real eye opener for many participants, including customs officers and school teachers who face health and safety hazards on a daily basis in their workplace. For example, few participants were previously aware of the need for appropriate Personal Protective Equipment or signage. It goes to show that chemical storage and handling is not properly done in the Pacific region and the risk of incidents due to incompatible chemicals storage is real."

At the Cook Islands training, Mr Vavia Tangatataia, Manager – Advisory and Compliance Division at National Environment Service stated that the training was very successful, with lots of useful discussion between the facilitators and attendees:

"Participants learned a lot about POPs and chemical management as a whole. From my perspective, this was one of the most important and successful chemical management training sessions ever held in Cook Islands. A very important outcome from the training was discussion and agreement for a National Action Plan for chemical management."

To date, the Best Practice Chemical Management Training has been successfully run in Vanuatu, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, with training to a further eight island countries scheduled for later this year.

The course was developed, and is being delivered, by USP's Institute of Applied Science as part of the Pacific POPs Release Reduction Project. This project, funded through the Global Environment Facility - Pacific Alliance for Sustainability (GEF-PAS), aims to reduce Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the Pacific region through the improved management of solid and hazardous waste.

The project is co-funded by Agence Française de Développement (AFD). It is executed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). For more information, please visit www.sprep.org/stopthepops
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