UN recommends global elimination of toxic plastic additives

A U.N. expert scientific review committee has evaluated two toxic, chemical additives found in many common plastics and has concluded the evidence of the substances’ harm to health and the environment qualify them for global elimination, recommending that the chemicals be listed under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). 

The Committee noted that it is important to separate out plastic wastes containing these chemicals, UV-328 and Dechlorane Plus, to ensure they are not recycled into new products. It also warned about the risk of replacing one of the chemicals, UV-328, with any other related hazardous chemical that could have harmful impacts on human health and the environment.

The decisions came at the meeting of the POPs Review Committee (POPRC) of the Stockholm Convention. Despite these welcome decisions, science experts from IPEN in attendance at the meeting warn that a range of exemptions were introduced in the recommendations that will unnecessarily perpetuate the use of these toxic chemicals and cause harm to health and the environment for decades. The exemptions include use of the chemicals in cars and aircraft, which are similar to exemptions for previous listing of brominated flame retardants that has led to widespread and ongoing pollution of recycled plastics.  

Dr. Therese Karlsson, IPEN Science and Technical Advisor said, “It is great to see that two toxic plastic additives are being recommended for listing. This highlights that substantial efforts are urgently needed to phase out toxic chemicals used in plastics. It is however deeply concerning that the committee is recommending that some uses for the two chemicals will be allowed to continue for decades. These allowed uses will continue to put human health and the environment at risk.”

The meeting also concluded that two classes of chemicals were likely, as a result of their long-range environmental transport, to lead to significant adverse human health and environmental effects, such that global action is warranted, and will be further assessed next year: Medium-chained chlorinated paraffins (MCCPs) and long chain perfluorocarboxylic acids.

The MCCPs are already used as “regrettable” toxic substitutes for short chained chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs), which were listed in 2017. The current recommendation of MCCPs, although significant, has a limited scope regarding chain length and chlorination level that is likely to lead to additional toxic substitutions by similar chlorinated paraffins. Recent research has shown that long-chained chlorinated paraffins have already reached the Arctic and should be eliminated.

Pamela Miller, IPEN Co-Chair and Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics stated, “The issue of MCCPs holds more than a scientific interest for me. I grew up in a small town in Dover Ohio, in the US, the site of a primary manufacturing facility for MCCPs. 

“Our neighborhood and my family have suffered cancers and other health disparities due to the flagrant and illegal discharges to air, water, and land. This is not just a local issue. MCCPs are a major concern for the health of traditional foods and peoples of the Arctic where I now live and work. This is a terrible injustice and violation of human rights. We must ensure the elimination of this entire class of dangerous chemicals.”

The long chain perfluorocarboxylic acids is a group of toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” that are widespread pollutants threatening drinking water sources, public health, and the occupational health of firefighters. They do not break down in the environment and accumulate in the bodies of wildlife and people. They are used in a wide variety of products, including firefighting foam, waterproofing of textiles, and food packaging, as well as other industrial and consumer applications.

IPEN Science Advisor Dr. Sara Brosché said, “The Committee sent a clear message in recommending this large group of toxic chemicals, that it is time for the industry to stop replacing one bad PFAS chemical with another equally bad. It is high time to eliminate this whole group of harmful chemicals. Noting the many groups of toxic chemicals in use today that are likely to meet the POPs criteria, the approach of addressing groups of chemicals under the Convention rather than one at a time should be the default for future nominations.”

Chlorpyrifos, a highly toxic pesticide, was also reviewed but the Committee failed to agree to move forward to the next phase. It will again be considered at next meeting of the Committee in 2023.

Photo credit: Pexels/ Xavier Messina

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