(Beyond Pesticides, May 13, 2009) Last week, nine new hazardous chemicals were added to the list of chemicals to be banned under the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Lindane, a pesticide commonly used in head lice treatments in the U.S. and whose use has already been banned in many countries, was added to the list for phase out. The U.S. Congress has never ratified the Stockhom Convention because of controversy associated with ratification legislation that would weaken federal pesticide law rather than adhere to more protective international standards. Meanwhile, environmental and public health groups in the U.S. have been urging U.S. officials to ban lindane due to its toxic and bioaccumulative effects.
More than 160 governments (including those countries that have ratified the Stockholm Converntion) agreed last Saturday to include the nine pesticides and industrial chemicals to the list of 12 other persistent organic pollutants (POPS) in order to strengthen a global effort to eradicate some of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind. The nine chemicals are:
”¢ alpha hexachlorocyclohexane – produced as an unintended byproduct of lindane;
”¢ beta hexachlorocyclohexane -produced as an unintended byproduct of lindane;
”¢ hexabromodiphenyl ether and heptabromodiphenyl ether- used in flame retardants;
”¢ tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether- used in flame retardants;
”¢ chlordecone -an agricultural pesticide;
”¢ hexabromobiphenyl, or HBB – a flame retardant;
”¢ lindane – used in creams for treatment head lice; also has been used in other insecticides;
”¢ pentachlorobenzene – used in PCB products, dyestuff carriers, as a fungicide, a flame retardant
”¢ PFOS, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, its salts and perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride – appears in a wide range of products from electronics components to fire-fighting foam (listed for elimination or restriction)
The Stockholm Convention, which was adopted in 2001 and entered into force 2004, requires Parties to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment.
“Just five years after this convention came 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,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), which hosted the conference.
Donald Cooper, executive secretary of the Stockholm Convention, set out why the banned substances were exceptionally dangerous: They cross boundaries and are found everywhere, from the Tropics to Polar Regions; they persist for long periods in the atmosphere, soil and water, and take years to degrade; they accumulate in bodies; they accumulate in food chains. The chemicals can also damage reproduction, mental capacity and growth and cause cancer, Mr. Cooper said.
Countries that have ratified the treaty also enact national legislation to enforce the bans and restrictions it imposes. 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. The additions to the list make it possible for developing countries to receive international help in containing and destroying stockpiles of the chemicals which might otherwise seep into the soil and water supply.
Last month, groups in the U.S. called for the international ban of lindane and its inclusion onto the Stockholm Convention. The coalition of groups called on the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Acting Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Joshua Sharfstein M.D., to support listing of lindane under the international treaty without exemption for lotions and shampoos (“pharmaceutical uses”). It is unclear whether the listing of lindane as a POP to be banned would have any impact in the U.S. since the U.S. has not ratified the Stockholm Convention.
Lindane is a neurotoxic, organochlorine pesticide which has been linked to seizures, developmental disabilities and hormone disruption. It is known to be particularly hazardous to children. Lindane and associated isomers are among the most ubiquitous chemicals in the Arctic environment, contaminating traditional foods of Indigenous communities in the region. Lindane is banned in the state of California and has also been restricted in Michigan for use on head lice and scabies.
In the document, “Transforming Government’s Approach to Regulating Pesticides to Protect Public Health and the Environment,” which identifies what the Obama administration can/should take on under existing authority/statutory responsibility, Beyond Pesticides, Pesticide Action Network North America and other coalition groups urge Congress to ratify the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in a way that gives the U.S. EPA the authority to take prompt action on pesticides and other chemicals identified as POPs by the international community, and to protect children from dangerous pharmaceutical pesticide products like lindane.