POPs Review Panel Agrees to Propose Limits On Four Chemicals Under Stockholm Treaty

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GENEVA--Scientific experts meeting under the aegis of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) concluded a five-day meeting in Geneva Oct. 19 with an agreement to advance proposals that would lead to eventual restrictions on the production and sale of four chemicals.

Environmental groups, however, criticized the experts for once again failing to advance a proposal to restrict short-chained chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs), arguing that the process has become hostage to economic concerns.

The convention’s POPs Review Committee (POPRC) ended its eighth meeting by agreeing to recommend the listing of hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) in Annex A of the convention. Chemicals listed under Annex A are subject to a ban on their production or use. More than 20 chemicals are already on the list.

However, the POPRC agreed to recommend specific exemptions for HBCD used in expanded polystyrene and extruded polystyrene in buildings, due to the lack of commercially available safer alternative chemicals at present. The exemptions would be allowed for five years from the date the listing enters into force. The three other chemicals to advance in the listing process were hexachlorobutadiene, chlorinated naphthalenes, and pentachlorophenol.

HBCD is a brominated flame retardant mainly used as thermal insulation in the building industry. Global production of HBCD was estimated at 31,000 metric tons in 2011, with China accounting for the majority of the production.

Blessing and Curse.

Joseph DiGangi, senior scientific and technical adviser to the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), said the POPRC’s recommendation on HBCD is “both a blessing and a curse.” The curse, he explained, was the approved specific exemptions, since around 90 percent of current HBCD use is for expanded polystyrene in buildings.

“There shouldn’t be any exemptions because there are a wide array of alternative chemicals available,” DiGangi argued, noting that a decision on the chemical was previously blocked by China at the POPRC’s 2011 meeting, which wanted more information on chemical alternatives.

The recommendation to list HBCD will now go to the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Stockholm Convention for formal approval. The next COP meeting is scheduled for April 28-May 10, 2013.

The POPRC also advanced work on the possible listing of hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD) and chlorinated naphthalenes (CNs) by approving draft risk profiles for the two chemicals, the second stage of the approval process.

Hexachlorobutadiene has a variety of applications, ranging from an intermediate in chemical production over transformer, hydraulic, or heat transfer liquid to a viticulture pesticide. The chemical is no longer produced in Europe, North America, or the former Soviet republics.

The European Union proposed the listing of HCBD in the Stockholm Convention annexes in 2011, noting the chemical is persistent, bioaccumulative, very toxic to aquatic organisms, and toxic to birds (187 DER A-15, 9/27/11).

Chlorinated naphthalenes were primarily used for electric insulation, flame retardation, and biocidal protection of goods and were gradually replaced by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in many applications. Production decreased sharply by the late 1970s and production has virtually stopped in many countries.

However, unintentional releases of CNs have continued, primarily through waste incineration, prompting the EU to propose its listing under the convention annexes in 2011 due to its toxicity for aquatic as well as terrestrial organisms.

Risk Profile for Pentachlorophenol.

An additional proposal to list pentachlorophenol (PCP) and its salts and esters also advanced after the POPRC agreed the chemical fulfilled the screening criteria for listing in the convention’s annexes, the first stage of the approval process. A draft risk profile will now be drawn up for the next POPRC meeting in 2013.

PCP and its salts and esters have been proposed for inclusion in the convention annexes by the EU, which argues that the chemical has been proven to have adverse effects in mammals.

Under the convention rules, when the POPRC is asked to examine chemicals nominated for listing, it prepares risk profiles to ascertain whether the chemicals in question present enough risk to merit global action. If the committee decides the chemicals are likely to lead to significant adverse human health or environmental effects warranting global action, it then prepares risk management evaluations that include an analysis of possible control measures.

Based on the risk profiles and the risk management evaluations, the committee then recommends whether the chemical should be considered for inclusion in the annexes at a future COP meeting.

Reiner Arndt, senior adviser to Germany’s Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and chairman of the POPRC committee, declared himself satisfied with the outcome of the Oct. 15-19 experts meeting.

“I’m satisfied because we made great progress on moving forward four chemicals to different stages of the approvals process,” Arndt told BNA. He also cited progress by the experts on assessing alternatives to the use of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), which is currently listed in Annex B of the convention restricting production and use, as well as assessing the possible impact of climate change on the POPRC’s work, as positive outcomes from the meeting.

Short-Chained Chlorinated Paraffins.

Arndt also expressed satisfaction with what he described as the “good compromise” reached in regard to SCCPs.

The EU proposed listing SCCPs in the convention’s annexes back in 2006. SCCPs are used as flame retardants and as lubricants in metalworking, paints, adhesives, and sealants, and plastics and rubber. They are also used in fracturing fluids by the oil and gas industry and are considered very toxic to aquatic organisms.

However, the POPRC has been unable to secure approval of a draft risk profile for the chemical mainly due to opposition from China and Japan.

Arndt invited proponents and opponents of actions on SCCPs to draw up short papers justifying their position. China and Japan presented the case for postponing further action, while Canada, France, and the Netherlands presented the case for approving the draft risk profile.

When consensus could not be reached, the POPRC decided it did not have enough information to reach a conclusion on advancing the chemical for a possible listing and decided to study the matter until the committee’s eleventh meeting, scheduled to take place in 2015.

Decisions are normally taken by the experts on a consensus basis. In 2009 the POPRC took the unprecedented step of approving a draft risk profile for the chemical endosulfan after India continued to block approval, but the experts since then have been eager to avoid repeating such a divisive step.

Representatives from the IPEN alliance denounced the delay as “inexcusable.”

“It appears that the committee once again delayed action because SCCPs are widely used--instead of focusing on their potential harms as obligated by the Stockholm Convention,” Mariann Lloyd-Smith, senior adviser to the National Toxics Network in Australia, said. “That raises concerns about scientific integrity and whether commercial considerations are a higher priority than the Stockholm Convention’s goal of protecting human health and the environment.”

Chinese Production 'Through the Roof.'

Lloyd-Smith noted that China’s production of SCCPs has been “going through the roof,” with DiGangi adding that Chinese output increased 30-fold in two decades to 600,000 tons in 2007.

“If China continues to increase production at the current rate, the amount will soon exceed the entire historic worldwide usage of PCBs,” DiGangi said.

Arndt admitted the outcome was not to everyone’s satisfaction, but said the compromise provided a “way forward for a solution.”

“Compromises are never perfect,” he declared. “My main concern was that disagreement on this issue would jeopardize the good spirit of cooperation experts had demonstrated throughout the week.”

POPRC decisions are made by scientific experts from 31 of the 178 countries that are party to the Stockholm Convention. Officials noted that 27 experts showed up for the committee’s eighth meeting, with the experts from India and South Korea among the notable no-shows.

By Daniel Pruzin