Global chemical experts take science to action by moving towards phase out of toxic chemicals

Taking important practical steps to protect human health and the environment, the Stockholm Convention’s Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee held its 11th meeting at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Headquarters in Rome, 19-23 October 2015.

Persistent Organic Pollutants are amongst the most toxic substances found on earth and pose serious threats to human health and the environment, and can be found in human breast milk, air, water and animals, including those living in polar regions. Specific effects of POPs can include cancer, allergies and hypersensitivity, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, reproductive disorders, and disruption of the immune system. Some POPs are also considered to be endocrine disrupters, which, by altering the hormonal system, can damage the reproductive and immune systems of exposed individuals as well as their offspring; they can also have developmental and carcinogenic effects.

The Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC), a subsidiary body of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), recommended the inclusion of one additional chemical under the Convention in Annex A – decabromodiphenyl ether or c-decaBDE – a highly toxic and persistent flame retardant commonly used in the aeronautical, automobile, and textile industries. The decision to list decaDBE will be taken at the next Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention, in 2017.

The Committee also agreed and adopted the risk profile for short-chained chlorinated paraffins, moving them to the next stage of the listing process, which requires the development of a risk management evaluation. SCCP uses include in metalworking, paints, adhesives and sealants, leather fat liquors, plastics and rubber, flame retardants, and textiles and polymeric materials.

The Committee further agreed that pentadecafluorooctanoic acid, PFOA, its salts and PFOA-related compounds, meets the Annex D criteria to be considered a POP, namely persistence, bioaccumulation, long-range transport and adverse effects. The next step is to prepare a draft risk profile for this widely used chemical. PFOA-related substances are used in fire-fighting foams, wetting agents and cleaners, textiles and leather, paper and cardboard (e.g. food packaging), paints and lacquers and others.

Further decisions were adopted concerning new information on unintentional releases of Hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD); accepting the Guidance on alternatives to perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, its salts (PFOS), perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride and related chemicals; on ensuring effective participation in the work of the Committee; and on approving the Committee’s workplan for the next intersessional period until POPRC12. On dicofol the Committee agreed to form an intersessional working group to revise the draft risk profile for submission and adoption at the next POPRC meeting in 2016.

Demonstrating very clearly the integrated and cross-cutting nature of chemicals in peoples’ everyday lives, the meetings brought together government-appointed chemical experts from all regions as well as specialised NGOs and the private sector. Deliberations included not only the toxicology of POPs but also consideration of alternatives, risk management, and socio-economic aspects.

In moving forwards towards eventual listing of these chemicals, the Committee has recommended actions that will protect human lives and the environment against some of the world’s most dangerous toxic chemicals,” said Professor Estefania Gastaldello Moreira, from the University of Londrina (Brazil), Chairperson of the POPs Review Committee. “We believe that only through sound management of chemicals and wastes can the globally-agreed Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, be achieved, which are crucial for society to overcome the twin challenges of poverty eradication and climate change”.

The meeting of the POPs Review Committee will be followed back-to-back by the Rotterdam Convention’s Chemical Review Committee 11th meeting, 26-28 October 2015, at the same venue.