Wednesday, 7th June 2023

Governments agree to ban two toxic plastic chemicals, hazardous pesticides

By Chinedum Uwaegbulam
15 May 2023   |   4:42 am
Aproximately 180 countries to the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Stockholm Convention have agreed to add two toxic plastic chemicals and a pesticide to the agreement’s list of substances for global elimination.

Approximately 180 countries to the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Stockholm Convention have agreed to add two toxic plastic chemicals and a pesticide to the agreement’s list of substances for global elimination. It also included exemptions that will permit continued use of the plastic chemicals.

The governments to the COP found that the chemicals, the plastic additive UV-328, the flame retardant Dechlorane Plus (also often used in plastics) and the pesticide methoxychlor all meet the convention criteria as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) required for a global ban.
The decision came out of a two-week-long conference in Switzerland on Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, a series of United Nations agreement to regulate waste and hazardous chemicals. Nigeria had a delegation to the conference that included government officials and civil society groups.
A report released last week from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions noted that chemicals released throughout the life cycle of plastics pose serious health and environmental threats and should be the focus of global regulations.
The review, “chemicals in Plastics: A Technical Report” has immediate significance for the upcoming Plastics Treaty negotiations in Paris later this month, as it explores in detail issues related to the invisible health threats posed by chemicals in plastic and the need for global chemical controls and approaches that promote reducing plastic production.
Pollution from plastic waste, acknowledged as a major environmental problem of global concern, has reached epidemic proportions with an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic now found in the oceans, 80-90 per cent of which comes from land-based sources.
Specifically, governments amended the Basel Convention to include plastic waste in a legally-binding framework, which will make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated, whilst also ensuring that its management is safer for human health and the environment.
Besides, a new partnership on plastic waste was established to mobilise business, government, academic and civil society resources, interests and expertise to assist in implementing the new measures, to provide a set of practical supports – including tools, best practices, technical and financial assistance – for this ground-breaking agreement.
Other far-reaching decisions included the elimination of two toxic chemical groups, which together total about 4,000 chemicals, listed into Annex A of the Stockholm Convention, namely Dicofol and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and its salts and related compounds.
Dicofol is used as a miticide on a variety of field crops, fruits, vegetables, ornamentals and tea and coffee and is known to cause skin irritation and hyperstimulation of nerve transmissions in humans, as well as being highly toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates, algae and birds.
PFOA has till now been used in a wide variety of industrial and domestic applications including non-stick cookware and food processing equipment, as well as a surfactant in textiles, carpets, paper, paints and fire-fighting foams. As a substance of very high concern, it is linked to major health problems including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease and hypertension in pregnancy.
Important progress was also made under the Rotterdam Convention, which provides a legally-binding framework for information exchange and informed decision-making in the trade of certain hazardous pesticides and industrial chemicals. Two chemicals, the pesticide phorate and the industrial chemical hexabromocyclododecane were added to Annex III of the convention, making them subject to the Prior Informed Consent Procedure, through which countries can decide on future imports of these chemicals.
A further decision, to approve procedures and mechanisms on compliance with the Rotterdam Convention – seen as a crucial step for further improving implementation of this key convention – was adopted with great appreciation by Parties.
Speaking at the closing session of the COPs, UN Environment’s Executive Secretary of the three conventions, Rolph Payet, said: “I’m proud that this week in Geneva, Parties to the Basel Convention have reached agreement on a legally-binding, globally-reaching mechanism for managing plastic waste. Plastic waste is acknowledged as one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, and the fact that this week close to one million people around the world signed a petition urging Basel Convention Parties to take action here in Geneva at the COPs is a sign that public awareness and desire for action is high.”
“We were able to list two out of seven candidate chemicals and will continue working closely with parties to identify feasible alternative solutions to hazardous pesticides, taking due account of food security and market access aspects” added Hans Dreyer, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Executive Secretary of the Rotterdam Convention.
“The COP took an important step today toward protecting human health and the environment from three chemicals linked to serious health conditions and threats to biodiversity,” said Dr. Sara Brosché, a Science Advisor with International pollution Elimination Network (IPEN).
“But we are disappointed that financial interests caused unnecessary and dangerous exemptions that will lead to ongoing toxic exposures, especially for waste workers and communities in low- and middle-income countries where materials containing these chemicals often end up.
“It is clear that some countries are reluctant to put the necessary systems in place that would help keep track of these hazardous materials. The only solution is to move quickly to eliminate these and other toxic chemicals and adopt safer alternatives,” she added.