Saturday, March 6, 2010
So What are the Stockholm/Rotterdam/LRTAP Conventions Mentioned in Thursday's TSCA Chemical Reform Hearing?
At Thursday's House Subcommittee hearing on TSCA Reform, one of the points made by both Jim Jones of EPA and John Thompson of the Department of State was that they thought the US should ratify three international agreements for which we had signed onto but never officially joined through passage of acts from Congress. So what are these agreements? Today I'll take a look at one of them - the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. I'll examine the others in ensuing days.
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) is a "global treaty to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically and accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife."
In other words, that are persistent (P), bioaccumulative (B), and can transport to remote locations. The assumption is that exposure to POPs can "lead to serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease and even diminished intelligence." Inherent in the agreement is the fact that since these chemicals can be transported in the air, water, or biota for long distances, "no one governing acting alone can protect is citizens or its environment from POPs," and thus an international effort was required. The result was the Stockholm Convention adopted in 2001 and entered into force 2004. It "requires Parties to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment. The Convention is administered by the United Nations Environment Programme and based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Initially, twelve POPs were recognized as "causing adverse effects on humans and the ecosystem," and these fit into 3 general categories:
Pesticides: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene;
Industrial chemicals: hexachlorobenzene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); and
By-products: hexachlorobenzene; polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDD/PCDF), and PCBs.
These 12 chemicals are often referred to as "the dirty dozen." Depending on the Annex in which the chemicals are listed, the goal is for countries who have signed the agreement to take steps to eliminate (Annex A), restrict (Annex B), or protect from unintentional production (Annex C) these 12 chemicals.
However, in May 2009, the Conference of the Parties (COP) adopted amendments to these Annexes to list nine additional chemicals as persistent organic pollutants, again placed into one or more of the three general categories:
Pesticides: chlordecone, alpha hexachlorocyclohexane, beta hexachlorocyclohexane, lindane, pentachlorobenzene;
Industrial chemicals: hexabromobiphenyl, hexabromodiphenyl ether and heptabromodiphenyl ether, pentachlorobenzene, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, its salts and perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride, tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether; and
By-products: alpha hexachlorocyclohexane, beta hexachlorocyclohexane and pentachlorobenzene.
So why is ratifying this Convention important? Well, even though we signed onto the agreement it has never been ratified by Congress, which means that all we can do is act as an observer. We can present our case at meetings, but we cannot vote. So this places the US in the position of having no real power to stand up for our own interests. Thus, we are susceptible to having outside interests dictate what happens here in the US.