Tue, 31 Oct 2000

Harmfull chemicals abound in world

JAKARTA (JP): Government regulators and the public must remain wary of the massive common use of some 70,000 chemicals around the world as some may by carcinogenic -- contain substances which can cause cancer.

"In 1981, the National Cancer Institute in the United States reported that from approximately 70,000 chemicals in common use, only 4,000 to 8,000 have been tested for carcinogenicity," Thailand's Princess Chulabhorn said in her written address at the executive seminar on Environmental Toxicology here on Monday.

"Between 800 and 900 compounds are known to be carcinogenic and between 1,600 and 2,800 compounds are possibly carcinogenic," said Chulabhorn, who is also President of Bangkok-based Chulabhorn Research Institute.

With the increase in the production and use of chemical compounds, people have become more exposed to the harmful effects of some of the chemicals either directly or indirectly through pollution of our natural environment, she said.

Chulaborn further quoted a Paracelsus' 15th Century principle of toxicology which says that: all things are poisons, it is only the dose which determines how lethal they are.

"Examples of this early citation in current daily living is illustrated by a commonly used drug, acetaminophen or parasetamol, which is therapeutic at approximately 500 milligram to 3 grams. At higher dosages of 15 grams to 20 grams, these drugs may be fatal".

"Caffeine in 100 cups of coffee is lethal. One liter of whisky may be lethal," she added.

In addition to the dose, duration of exposure is also one of the key factors in determining results of chemical toxicity.

Turning her attention to environmental pollution, both regulatory agencies and the public should be concerned with the long-term effects of receiving small amounts of pollutants since it will take a period of 10 to 30 years to see the end result.

"Therefore, training in environmental toxicology must receive top priority from the governments in Southeast Asia as these countries are experiencing rapid growth and development," she said.

"Trained personnel must be integrated within industries so that the toxic hazards and emissions can be identified and managed to prevent harmful effects," she added.

The seminar was also attended by noted toxicology experts such as D.J. Ecobichon from McGill University, Canada. (edt)