UN-sponsored meeting bans nine chemicals – but not DDT

Nine more persistent chemicals banned worldwide.

To protect the environment, as well as the health of people and animals, representatives of 150 countries have just agreed to add nine chemicals to a list of persistent organic pollutants, or POPS, that are prohibited under the Stockholm Convention, an environmental treaty that took effect in 2004.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program (UNEP), explains the significance of the new agreement:

"Some of these chemicals, on their own, may not show up on the radar of public health. But, in their cumulative and interactive nature in the way that they are absorbed by living organisms, be they plants, animals or human beings, they can develop far-reaching consequences. But just five years after this Convention having come into force, we will have nine new chemicals added to the list of those that the world community agrees we need to control and ultimately get rid of or manage them more effectively," he said.

Because the list originally contained 12 chemicals (you can see what they are by clicking here), they're usually referred to as the Dirty Dozen. Most are supposed to be eliminated, but one is restricted (DDT, which may be used for malaria control). That use of DDT for public health reasons was continued under the new agreement. (However, the UN announced a DDT-free malaria-control initiative last week.)

The nine (see the list of banned chemicals here) include industrial chemicals as well as pesticides, a fungicide, flame-retardants, and lindane, a chemical that's sometimes used to control head lice. (It will be phased out over five years instead of the usual 12 months.)

The two brominated flame retardants (pentaBDE and octaBDE) added to the list are used in cellphones, cars, and computers, and there were questions about how these products would be treated when they were discarded. "Under the Stockholm treaty wastes that contain POPs cannot be recovered, recycled, reclaimed or directly reused," notes the Center for International Environmental Law.

So that pair of chemicals received an exemption allowing them to be recycled until possibly 2030.

Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) – used in semiconductors, medical devices, firefighting foam, metal plating, and more, says CIEL – received so many broad exemptions that they "effectively ensure [its] continued production and use," the group complains. (You may remember that PFOS was, once upon a time, the main ingredient in Scotchgard, but 3M reformulated the product.)

Because of those exemptions and because five of the nine newbies on the list are no longer manufactured, do you see this exercise as fruitless, or at least making some progress?

Addendum: The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) notes some more news today on banned chemicals:

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced its final decision to revoke all food tolerances for the highly toxic pesticide carbofuran, which is sold under the name "Furadan" by FMC Corporation. The agency’s announcement confirms a proposed action first announced in July 2008. FMC Corp. will have the opportunity to challenge the decision within 90 days with a petition to stay the rule. When the rule becomes final, EPA will proceed with the cancellation of registration for all uses of the pesticide. " [The rule could become effective at the end of this year.]

Dr. George Fenwick, president of ABC, calls carbofuran "one of the most deadly pesticides to birds left on the market."

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