In May 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a new report entitled “Public health impact of chemicals: Knowns and unknowns.” WHO addresses chemicals that are hazardous to human health, including pesticides, asbestos, various other household and occupational chemicals, ambient and household air pollution, second-hand tobacco smoke, lead, and arsenic. According to the report, 1.3 million lives and 43 million disability-adjusted life-years were lost in 2012 because of exposures to certain chemicals. Unintentional poisonings are estimated to cause 193,000 deaths per year, with the majority being from preventable chemical exposures. For example, addressing lead exposure could prevent 9.8% of intellectual disability, 4% of ischaemic heart disease, and 4.6% of stroke in the population. Further, occupational carcinogens are estimated to cause 2-8% of all cancers. In the general population, 14% of lung cancers are attributable to ambient air pollution, 17% to household air pollution, 2% to second-hand smoke, and 7% to occupational carcinogens. The report also provides examples of successful interventions preventing death and disease caused by chemicals, as well as evaluations of economic benefits to be gained.

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WHO (2016). “Public health impact of chemicals: Knowns and unknowns.