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Managing Chemicals Globally

Conference endorses international work on endocrine disrupters, nanomaterials, and perfluorinated compounds

by Cheryl Hogue
October 8, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 41

Governments, industry, and activists have agreed to focus international attention on safely managing endocrine-disrupting substances, nanomaterials, and perfluorinated compounds.

Representatives from 124 countries endorsed global efforts on these substances as part of the third International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM-3), which took place in Nairobi, Kenya, late last month. Held every three years, the conference oversees implementation of the United Nation’s Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. Adopted in 2006, the approach is a voluntary framework for global cooperation on the safe management of commercial chemicals. It is also a blueprint that developing countries can follow for developing regulatory and other controls of industrial substances.

Participants in ICCM-3 deemed a lack of information about endocrine-disrupting substances to be an emerging policy issue that calls for international action. Representatives backed boosting worldwide availability of and access to information about this class of chemicals.

The consensus reached at ICCM-3 marks the first time a global gathering has recognized the potential adverse effects of endocrine disrupters on human health and the environment, according to the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), an activist group. Work on endocrine disrupters through the voluntary UN effort, says Baskut Tuncak, an attorney with the center, “has the potential to help to ensure a level playing field internationally for businesses, and help to reduce the costs of diseases linked to the continued use” of these substances.

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), about 800 chemicals are known or suspected to interfere with hormone receptors or synthesis.

Sound management of nanomaterials is another emerging policy issue that should get international attention, delegates at ICCM-3 agreed. At the conference, officials adopted a resolution to encourage developing countries to include nanomaterials in their plans and policies for managing chemicals. This move could lead governments to require that producers take responsibility for nanomaterials throughout their life cycles, CIEL says.

ICCM-3 participants also called for the expansion of an international effort directed by UNEP and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) to phase out long-chain perfluorocarbons—chemicals that persist in the environment and are toxic to animals in laboratory tests (C&EN, Sept. 10, page 24). That campaign focuses on helping companies transition to shorter-chain perfluorocarbons, which are more benign than the longer-chain versions. ICCM-3 delegates encouraged UNEP and OECD to collaborate with the UN Industrial Development Organization and the secretariat of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants as the campaign progresses.

In addition, ICCM-3 delegates agreed to launch a campaign to improve the availability of and access to information on industrial chemicals in consumer products throughout the supply chain, from product creation through disposal.

The global efforts on endocrine disrupters, nanomaterials, perfluorinated compounds, and commercial chemicals in products “should focus on information exchange, education, and capacity building to ensure that ongoing work in other national and international bodies is shared,” says the International Council of Chemical Associations. “Industry is committed to assessing and managing the risks associated with these products,” the council says.

In Nairobi, delegates also considered a resolution calling for the phaseout of highly hazardous pesticides. According to UNEP, industry representatives and activists say these substances are often used inappropriately. However, participants did not adopt this resolution.


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