'Extreme weather could heighten risk from toxic chemicals'

Most chemicals cited in UN report not in use in Israel but Environment Ministry plans to implement Stockholm Treaty in order to eliminate hazardous materials.

By EHUD ZION WALDOKS, ASSOCIATED PRESS
February 27, 2011 02:24
4 minute read.
Suburb of Bexley is flooded following earthquake

New Zealand earthquake 6 GALLERY 465. (photo credit: AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Mark Mitchell)

Climate change is a major obstacle to a 2004 global treaty aimed at cutting exposure to 21 highly dangerous chemicals, according to a new UN-commissioned report issued last week.

The 66-page report says the risks of exposure could increase if more stockpiles and landfills leak due to flooding or other extreme weather linked to rising temperatures.

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Chemicals stored in stockpiles or waste dumps to be incinerated or removed later could simply wash away, become more volatile, or escape in the warmer weather through gas emissions, it says.

“Significant climate-induced changes are foreseen in relation to future releases of persistent organic pollutants into the environment... subsequently leading to higher health risks both for human populations and the environment,” Donald Cooper, the Geneva-based UN treaty’s executive secretary, wrote in the preface.

Most of the chemicals listed in the treaty are not in use in Israel and there are no stockpiles according to the data currently available to the relevant ministries, the Environmental Protection Ministry responded to a query from The Jerusalem Post late last week. However, the ministry is currently undertaking a national survey to locate use of any of the chemicals and will prepare a national plan to effect their disuse.

The report was presented to experts convening at a UN environment meeting last week in Nairobi, Kenya. The treaty, known as the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, or POPs, is intended to protect the environment and people’s health from what it calls very dangerous chemicals that accumulate in the environment, travel long distances by air and water, and work their way through the food chain.

These chemicals pose a known risk to humans and the environment because they persist in people’s bodies – damaging reproductive health, leading to mental health problems, or causing cancer or impede growth.

Initially the treaty focused on 12 chemicals known as the “dirty dozen,” such as the widely banned pesticides DDT and chlordane. The use of DDT in sprays to kill malaria-spreading mosquitoes has been allowed under exception in the treaty, but the UN says there are good alternatives to combat malaria and hopes to phase out DDT completely by the early 2020s.

Israel completely prohibited the use of DDT six years ago and even before then, it was only used to wipe out sand flies, the ministry told the Post.

In 2009, nine more substances were added, including Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid or PFOS, used in a wide range of products from semiconductor chips to fire-fighting substances to lindane, an insecticide used to combat head lice.

The report said climate warming could result in greater use of some of the pesticides, such as DDT which is produced and used widely for malaria control. Other concerns are that more chemicals will be emitted into the air because vapor pressure increases exponentially with temperature, and added heat will make them more volatile.

The report comes a week after two studies in the journal Nature suggested that extreme rainstorms and snowfalls are growing stronger as greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion build in the atmosphere.

The treaty’s ultimate aim is to phase the chemicals out. Participating countries have one year to say whether they will ban or restrict the chemicals, or whether they will need more time or an exemption. Countries that have ratified the treaty also enact national legislation to enforce the bans and restrictions it imposes.

There are 172 parties to the treaty, including China and India and most of Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. But a few that have signed on – most notably Israel, Italy, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States – have yet to ratify it.

“The ministry is currently putting together a national plan to completely implement the Stockholm treaty, which will be presented to the treaty’s secretariat for approval at the end of 2012,” the Environmental Protection Ministry said. “The preparation of the plan is divided into several stages. The first stage is to survey and map the use of POPS in Israel. The survey is being carried out by DHV Company under the ministry’s supervision.

“The second stage will be to use the survey’s results to see what gaps exist between the reality in Israel and the treaty’s requirements. The third stage will be creating a national plan. To that end, an interministerial committee, with the ministry at its head, has been created, including representatives of the Manufacturers’ Association and the international organization CP RAC,” the ministry said.

“The Regional Activity Centre for Cleaner Production is one of the six Regional Activity Centres (RAC) within the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP). Each one of these centres is responsible for a specific thematic area. The main goal of the RACCP is the promotion and dissemination of prevention and the reduction of pollution at source in the industrial, agriculture and tourism sectors,” according to RACCP’s website.

Last month, an intensive seminar was held on the topic by an international expert from the RECETOX Company and consultants from RACCP also lectured on various topics related to creating a national plan, the ministry added.

Momentum for the treaty built after scientists grew alarmed at finding high concentrations of the chemicals in the fatty tissues and blood of Inuit Indians in Canada, even though they were thousands of miles away from the production or use of any of the chemicals.


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