Dimensions of Pollution


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Humans use over 100,000 different chemical elements and compounds, including lead, mercury, cadmium and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). If not managed properly, chemicals can have severe impacts on human health, causing acute poisoning, cancers, birth defects, neurological disorders, hormone disruption and more. Lead poisoning in children costs an estimated $977 billion dollars per year – equivalent to 1.2 per cent of the world’s GDP – by lowering the IQ of children in low- and middle-income countries. Chemical pollution also depletes the ozone layer and disrupts delicate species and ecosystems.

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Exposure to lead is responsible for 4% of ischemic heart disease and 6.6% of strokes.

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UN Environment hosts the secretariat of the Minamata Convention, which addresses the adverse effects of mercury, as well as the Ozone Secretariat of the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, which regulates substances that deplete the ozone layer. Our OzonAction initiative works with governments and industry in developing countries to help them phase out ozone-depleting chemicals.


Together with the World Health Organization, we lead the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead in Paint, which aims to eliminate the use of lead in paint by 2020. We also lead the Global Alliance for the Development of Alternatives to DDT, a partnership to scale up best practices and accelerate the development and deployment of alternative pest control. Through the international Flexible Framework Initiative for Addressing Chemical Accident Prevention and Preparedness (or CAPP), we support activities to raise awareness and build the capacities of communities, industry and governments about emergency prevention and preparedness.


UN Environment’s Global Chemicals Outlook identifies key trends and policy analysis to inform international discussions on chemicals and waste management. The second edition of the Outlook will be published in 2018.

Get more details on pollution in our background report, Towards a pollution-free planet.