Global Health Observatory (GHO)

Chemicals

Chemicals are part of our daily life. All living and inanimate matter is made up of chemicals and virtually every man-made product involves the use of chemicals. Many chemicals can, when properly used, significantly contribute to the improvement of our quality of life, health and well-being. But other chemicals are highly hazardous and can negatively affect our health and environment when improperly managed.

It is estimated that in 2004 at least 4.9 million deaths (8.3% of all deaths) were due to environmental exposure to selected chemicals. The largest contributors include indoor smoke from solid fuel use, outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke (refer to separate GHO pages on these chemicals), followed by occupational particulates, chemicals involved in acute poisonings, and pesticides involved in self-poisonings. To date the assessments cover only a limited number of chemicals or their mixtures for which data were available. The burden of disease from chemicals which could not yet be assessed at global level remains unknown.

  • Exposure to lead
    Overall, 99% of children affected by high exposure to lead live in low- and middle-income countries
  • Poison centres
    As at 6 February 2012, only 46% of WHO Member States had a poisons centre

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