UN expert highlights Brexit threat to human rights protections against toxic pollutions

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Mr Baskut Tuncak has called on the UK and its devolved administrations to ensure that leaving the European Union does not result in lower protections against the impacts of toxic pollution on the right to health, particularly for those most vulnerable in society. a final report of his visit will be presented to the UN and UK in September.

Following his first official visit to the country to investigate issues caused by hazardous substances and wastes (including threats related to dangerous levels of air pollution, fracking and other industrial activities), the human rights expert said: “EU regulations have required the UK to strengthen human rights protections from various sources of pollution and contamination. The forthcoming plan for Brexit should ensure that it does not open a Pandora’s box, freeing the way for deregulation and posing a threat of regression from existing standards of protection.”

During his 15-day mission, Mr Tuncak met with representatives from the UK central and devolved administrations, as well as the Scottish Human Rights Commission, civil society organisations and the business community in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Cardiff.

In Scotland, he discovered that a recurring theme for concerned communities was the difficulty in accessing information relevant to the health and safety of individuals. This included those affected by:

  • unconventional gas extraction in Falkirk; and
  • plans to expand industry in Grangemouth.

He is now calling on the Scottish Government to “comply with their obligations to ensure the right to information of individuals who might be directly affected by the impact of such an industry.” He reminded the Government that human rights obligations such as the right to an adequate standard of living and right to information are fundamental to the enjoyment of all rights.

Mr Baskut was also troubled to hear about the alleged cases of toxic contamination from UK military activities resulting in disease among communities. However he was pleased to learn that the Ministry of Defence and Scottish Authorities have agreed on a plan to clean up contamination discovered at the former military site in Dalgety Bay.

In his report, he refers to the Scottish moratorium on fracking as a good example of the opportunities that devolution has created for more democratic decision making about public health and environmental threats. He adds that it is “allowing for informed decision making and more meaningful public participation”.

The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report with his findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2017.

Read his end of visit statement and accompanying news release click herelink].