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International talks make progress in controlling harmful chemicals

Two important global chemical processes have had meetings recently. Experts working on the Persistent Organic Pollutants Convention recommended international controls on more chemicals, notably the flame retardant deca-DBDE, and the non-stick chemical, PFOA.

Meanwhile, governments met at the International Conference on Chemicals Management and prioritised future work on pharmaceutical pollution and hormone or endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which are now both designated as ‘emerging policy issues’ of global concern. However, there are concerns as to whether there is sufficient funding for the implementation of this work.

International Conference on Chemicals Management

At the start of October, delegates at the 4th International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM) met and took important decisions to advance safer chemicals management. At ICCM meetings national and regional representatives, with input from environment and health NGOs and industry, decide how to implement the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM).  SAICM is coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Two important decisions taken were:

  • The acceptance of the topic of Environmentally Persistent Pharmaceutical Pollutants (EPPPs) as a new emerging policy issue, meriting global intervention. The meeting recognised the potential adverse effects of exposure to  pharmaceutical pollutants on the health of humans and wildlife, and the need to protect people and ecosystems. CHEM Trust had previously produced a detailed report on medicines in the environment, which was distributed at a SAICM pre-meeting in December 2014.
  • The adoption of a resolution on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) which welcomed the WHO – UNEP State of the Science report and recognised that there is a “cost of inaction” associated with EDCs. The Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals was invited to further develop and implement the plan of work for the cooperative actions on EDCs in an open, inclusive and transparent manner.

The international NGO Network IPEN, of which CHEM Trust is a member,  welcomed the results but raised concerns about funding in their press release:

“ICCM4 agreed to take action on some critical toxic chemical issues. However, a five-year funding gap will make it extremely difficult to implement them. This makes the need for funding urgent. Governments, financial institutions, intergovernmental organizations and the chemical industry must each pay their fair share”

Gwynne Lyons, Policy Director of CHEM Trust stated::

“It is good to see pharmaceuticals in the environment and EDCs gaining growing global attention. The recognition of pharmaceutical pollutants as a global threat is long overdue and action on these and EDCs is urgently needed. Nations and captains of industry must wake up to ensure sufficient resources are made available to prevent further harm by 2020.”

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) expert meeting

The UN Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants aims to prevent health effects and environmental damage from chemicals that  remain in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically on air or ocean currents and may accumulate in humans and wildlife.

As part of this Convention, an expert committee meets every year to discuss which chemicals should be addressed and brought under global control. This committee met in October, and key decisions taken included:

  • The need to eliminate DecaBDE, a toxic and persistent flame retardant, commonly  used in the in the aeronautical, automobile, and textile industries. The expert committee recommended the listing of  decaDBE, but the final decision will be taken at the next Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention, in 2017. It is worth noting that the decision did not allow recycling of materials containing this chemical. CHEM Trust had signed a joint NGO letter to EU Environment Commissioner Vella ahead of the meeting, calling on the EU to oppose any exemptions for recycling.
  • The decision that the perfluorinated chemical PFOA meets all criteria for further evaluation. PFOA is highly persistent, transported over long distances, and accumulates in animals, threatening the food chain. PFOA-related substances are used in numerous applications, including fire-fighting foams, textiles and leather, paper and cardboard (e.g. food packaging), and paints.
  • It was agreed that short short-chained chlorinated paraffins, used in metalworking, paints, adhesives and sealants, plastics and rubber, flame retardants, and textiles, should be evaluated for risk management controls.

The global NGO network IPEN has commented in detail on the outcomes of this meeting.