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New List of Hazardous Substances Spotlighted for International Action

Up to Nine More Persistent Organic Pollutants May Be Banned or Restricted Under the UNEP Stockholm Convention

Geneva/Nairobi, 13 October 2008 - A new range of everyday and industrial chemicals used in carpets and textiles up to aviation devices and medical equipment may soon be controlled or eliminated under an international hazardous substances treaty.

Scientists today began reviewing four to add to a list of five substances already short-listed last year for consideration under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

The four additional substances are -

  • Commercial uses of octabromodiphenyl ether, a brominated flame retardant used in textiles and carpets
  •  Pentachlorobenzene, found in electrical transformer fluids and as an impurity in herbicides, fungicides and wood treatments
  • Alpha and beta hexachlorocyclohexane which are by-products of the production of the pesticide Lindane.

Their possible listing will be reviewed in Geneva over the next few days by the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Review Committee in advance of the Convention's Conference of the Parties meeting in May 2009.

Achim Steiner,UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: "Chemicals have contributed to human well-being across a range of areas from medicine and foodstuffs to agriculture and industrial processes".

"However, as science gains greater insight into their effects we are fast understanding that some substances now pose real risks to humans and the wider environment often in vulnerable communities such as can be found in parts of the Arctic. Eliminating, restricting and accelerating a switch to better alternatives must be our goal," he added.

"The Stockholm Convention is already dealing with 12 Persistent Organic Pollutants, the so called Dirty Dozen. It is continuing to fulfill it mandate and meet its responsibilities by reviewing others for potential listing. I look forward to the review committee's decisions,' said Mr Steiner.
Many of these nine chemicals are used in everyday consumer products. Common uses include: flame retardants in textiles, carpets and electrical devices.

Some are present in coatings for photolithography processes; photo imaging; hydraulic fluids in aviation and in certain medical devices. They are also found in fire fighting foam, as well as electric and electronic components. If listed, the Convention will implement measures to control these dangerous chemicals. New products will be proposed and alternative procedures established to minimize the levels and uses of these substances.

The proposed listing means that the scope of the Stockholm Convention's work will double. It also reaffirms the Review Committee's mandate regarding the identification of POPs in current use.

Notes to Editors
The Stockholm Convention is an agreement whereby the international community agrees to limit or eliminate exposure to the substances listed under the Convention. It now covers 12 POPs, which are mostly obsolete.

The Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee of the Stockholm Convention (POPRC) is an expert group composed of government-designated experts assisted with observers from other parties and NGOs.

It reviews chemicals with POPs characteristics and recommends them for listing under the Convention. At the last Review Committee held in 19-23 November 2007, Geneva, Switzerland, five new chemicals were recommended for listing.

The Committee previously approved the risk management evaluation for five chemicals, and recommended that COP-4 consider listing them under Annex A: lindane; chlordecone; hexabromobiphenyl (HBB); pentabromodiphenyl ether (pentaBDE); and under Annex A or B: perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), its salts and PFOS fluoride (PFOSF).

This would lead to elimination (Annex A) or restriction (Annex B) of the production, use, export and import of the chemicals.

  • Lindane is used as an insecticide in agriculture and in pharmaceutical products for the treatment of headlice and scabies
  • Chlordecone also known as kepone, is used as a pesticide in agriculture
  • Hexabromobiphenyl is used as a flame retardant mainly in plastics and coated cables
  • Pentabromodiphenyl ether is used in the manufacture of flexible foam for furniture, upholstery, and packaging, and non-foamed polyurethane in casings and electronic equipment
  • Perfluorooctane sulfonate - PFOS is both an intentionally produced substance and an un-intentional degradation product of other related anthropogenic chemicals.OS-related substances are used as surface-active agents in different applications including fire fighting foams,textiles, paper and packaging,coatings, cleaning products,pesticides,photographic industry, semiconductor, hydraulic fluids, metal plating.

POPRC-4 will review four chemicals at the risk management evaluation phase (commercial octabromodiphenyl ether, pentachlorobenzene, and alpha and beta hexachlorocyclohexane), one at the risk profile phase (short chained chlorinated paraffins or SCCPs) and two at the screening phase (endosulphan) submitted by the EU and hexabromocyclododecane(HBCDD) submitted by Norway. Other new chemicals may be proposed in the future.

Further Information is available at http://www.pops.int or by emailing ssc@pops.int.
Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: +254 20 7623084 or E-mail:nick.nuttall@unep.org
Fatoumata Keita Ouane, Senior Scientific Officer, Tel: +41 22 917 8161, E-mail: fouane@pops.int




Further Resources

Persistent Organic Pollutants: Review Committee - Podcast

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants

UNEP Resources in Chemicals


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