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Countries demand strict POPs waste limit in BRS conference of parties

Delegates and country representatives converged in Geneva for a two weeks conference from 6th June for the Basel Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions (BRS)

The BRS convention seeks to promote the sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle. The Stockholm treaty aims to protect human health and environment from POPs, industrial chemicals and their toxic byproducts while Basel convention protects human health from toxic waste and Rotterdam on international trade of hazardous chemical. The conference happened one week after the Dakar Open Negotiations on the Global treaty on plastics that put emphasis on phasing out toxic chemicals and additives used in plastics.

As an organization one of the main keys asks was on limiting the use of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), in waste levels to protect human health and the environment.

What are pops and why should they be regulated

Pops are the most toxic and persistent chemicals. They include dioxins, PCBs, and some Brominated flame retardants. Even though the Stockholm convention requires destruction of wastes that exceed POPs limit and also bans recycling of wastes contaminated with POPs , growing evidence indicates that a lot of waste is contaminated and end up being recycled hindering the dream  for a toxic free materials.

In an a shocking evident by a lab analysis testing for the world’s worst toxic chemicals ,reveal high levels of POPs substance such as dioxin in African communities where plastic waste is dumped. Africa is disproportionately impacted by exposure to plastic’s toxic chemicals and waste which at the end contaminate food chain, soil and communities.

 The POPs persist for long period in the environment and can pass from one species to the next through food chains. In people, POPs can be transferred through placenta and breast milk and have been linked to reproductive, immunologic adverse health effects, endocrine disruptions and neurological damage. In wildlife species (POPs) exposures have been linked to declines, diseases and abnormalities

 

For a long period, countries have had a myth that POPs waste needs to be destroyed with high temperature incineration however; burning POP waste creates further cycle of dioxin emission to air. When plastics are burnt in the open, incinerated or used as fuel, POPs known as dioxin are released into the environment and begin to poison the food chain. Most of the persistent organic pollutants last for a long time in the environment and accumulate in animals and humans.

Dioxins are among the most toxic substances known to cause cancer and are unintentionally caused by burning of waste. Due to their nature of toxicity, in 2004 they banned and regulated globally by Stockholm convention but due to weak monitoring and regulations they are still traced in food chains.

In a study by International Pollutants Elimination Network  (IPEN ) and Arnika Hazardous chemicals;Hazardous chemicals in plastic products’   shows that children’s toys , hair accessories and kitchen utensils  and other products found in African and Arabic countries  markets are affected by unregulated recycling of e waste plastics that carry brominated flame retardants into new products. Contamination of toys is worrying for kids often put things in their mouth which could lead to ingesting of plastic pellets contaminated in their bodies.

Another study by CEJAD Kenya and International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) on free-range chicken eggs plastic-waste-disposal-leads-contamination-food-chain in African countries. It was proved that POPs contamination were present and high on the food chain in the vicinity of plastic waste disposal sites and facilities.  

The eggs were analyzed for the contamination of dioxins, which are the very toxic byproducts of POPs incineration or reprocessing and recycling technologies and persistent organic chemicals (POPs). The egg samples were collected in locations where plastic waste is dumped, burned to make energy, or processed for recycling across East and West African countries.

In Kenya, samples were located in Ngara because of e-waste dismantling yard and in parts of kikuyu where community cookers turn waste to energy used for cooking. In West Africa samples were taken from the world’s largest e-waste scrap yard in Agbogboshie, Ghana, medical waste incinerators in Ghana and two open burning waste dumpsites in Cameroon.

Free range chicken acted as active samplers for they pick food from soil including soil earthworms, worms and other soil fauna and dust thus ingesting some soil in the process .The role of the eggs laid by the free range chickens provided an indicator of the POPs environmental contaminations levels in that locality and shows a clear picture of contamination of the whole food value chain.

Egg samples from Agbogboshie e waste scrap yards were found to contain highest brominated dioxins ever. This means an adult taking one egg found within the yard exceeds the European Food Safety Authority for chlorinated dioxins by 220 fold. The World Health Organizations highlighted this toxic threat from plastics in their June 2021 report: Children and digital dumpsites: e-waste exposure and child health.

According to Griffins Ochieng the Executive Director at CEJAD ‘There is a need for the POPs treaty to stop recycling exemptions and establish strict hazardous waste limits to  discontinue use an global distribution of Pops especially in developing countries in the name of reuse ‘’

The export of electronic waste and plastics from developed countries in the name of repair, reuse or recycling has turned Africa to be a hazardous dumping site   need to be controlled by international agreements like the Basel and Stockholm convention.

A lot of work is needed to include non-combustion technologies for the destruction non POPs contaminated waste instead of current focus on incineration or cement kiln disposal.

The Geneva negations presented an important opportunity for countries to fight for a plastic treaty that promotes safer materials and a pathway to eliminate production of plastics and waste contaminated with toxic chemicals and additives.

BY

Patricia Kombo

Cejad Kenya and IPEN Africa communications adviser

 

 

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