By Pamela K. Miller, M.En., IPEN Co-Chair, and Rashmi Joglekar, Ph.D.
This article originally appeared in The Hill on 09/17/21
When President Biden took office, he pledged to protect people and the environment from toxic chemicals now poisoning communities across the United States. If he is serious about that promise, then his administration must align its foreign policies with its domestic commitments when it participates in the next meeting of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, an international treaty that prohibits dangerous pollutants that persist in the environment.
As countries are prepping for a consequential meeting early next year, the United States is behaving as the obstructionist in the room. With Biden’s nominee for the head of EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs (OITA) on the cusp of Senate approval, the EPA is well-positioned to act now and reverse this dangerous pattern of obstructionism.
More than 180 nations — but not the United States — are parties to the Stockholm Convention. Instead, the United States is an “observer.” While the United States is not a party and is not bound to the convention’s restrictions, our government has a long history of obstructing the convention’s efforts to ban some of the most dangerous toxic chemicals.
While governments of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have individually taken action to address incidents of illegal waste shipments from affluent and more developed countries, the 10-member bloc has yet to unify and boost up efforts to protect the region from the drawbacks and hazards of the global waste trade.
Published by the environmental health and justice group EcoWaste Coalition with the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), the report finds the current legal and policy responses inadequate to stop the entry of illegal waste, and more importantly, insufficient to protect the health of both people and the environment.
Chemicals in plastics have a variety of health consequences, and none more startling than the potential impacts on human fertility. In the same way that plastic additives and fire-retardant chemicals can disrupt endocrine function in kidneys or the pancreas — even at very low doses — they can have effects on ovaries and testes and the entire reproductive system. Studies show that fertiility has decreased over the past few decades, and work by researchers has linked some of these declines with the effects of ubiquitous toxic chemicals that have gone unregulated or that have persisted in the environment.
In July 2021, IPEN and Commonweal's Biomonitoring Resource Center hosted a webinar with two leaders in this research, Dr. Shanna Swan, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, and Dr. Pete Myers, Founder and Chief Scientist at Environmental Health Sciences. Dr. Swan's recent book "Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race" delves into the causes and issues surrounding this disturbing trend. In the webinar, she reviewed the findings from her book and outlined the issues we face in dealing with harms to human health. In his presentation, Dr. Myers detailed many of the issues faced in terms of threats to fertility, but also to other human and wildlife disease, such as the faulty regulatory thresholds currently in use by governments, which fail to account for non-monotonic effects at very low doses often seen with endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), the specific mechanisms of chemicals within cells, and the trans-generational impacts rarely discussed in popular media, brought about by epigenetic effects of chemicals and their metabolic by-products.
Gothenburg, Sweden Major investments in chemical recycling, plastic-to-fuel, and incineration to manage plastic waste is generating high volumes of highly hazardous waste and toxic emissions, according to a new report released today.
The report Plastic Waste Management Hazards is the first study providing a detailed account of how current investments in recycling schemes, both mechanical and chemical, will have very little impact on a growing, worldwide plastic pollution problem and will increase exposure to toxic chemicals in the communities where they are located.
Report co-author and IPEN POPs Policy Advisor, Lee Bell said, “No current management method for plastic waste is capable of alleviating the world’s expanding plastic pollution crisis. All methods generate significant toxic hazards because of the toxic additives that are a component of most plastic products. Industry’s championing of various recycling schemes is a marketing ploy designed to fend off plastic regulation and efforts to curb an escalating plastic pollution problem. The only solution to the plastic waste piling up in our communities and oceans is to limit plastic production to essential uses and eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in plastics.”
Quezon City, Philippines A groundbreaking Chemical Control Order (CCO) promulgated by the Government of the Philippines banning lead in the manufacture of all paints to prevent children’s and workers’ exposure to this toxic chemical was adjudged one of the five winners for this year’s Future Policy Award (FPA), also known as the “Oscar on best policies.” Other awardees are from Colombia, Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka and Sweden.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu thanked the World Future Council (WFC) for the recognition. “This will inspire us to further strengthen the implementation of our chemical control policy and to develop other policies to protect human health and the environment,” he said. “Our drive to ensure safer lead-free paint products does not end with the issuance of this policy,” he emphasized, citing the government's continuing efforts to “strengthen monitoring to enhance environmental compliance among stakeholders and thereby ensure a healthy and lead-free environment for our people.”
Cimatu likewise acknowledged partners from the public and private sectors, including the EcoWaste Coalition and the Philippine Association of Paint Manufacturers (PAPM), for their participation in the development and implementation of the trailblazing CCO. “We appreciate the vigilance of non-government organizations like the EcoWaste Coalition in the lead phase-out campaign. We also commend the academe and the PAPM for their support in making our CCO implementable.” The CCO issued in 2013 imposes a total lead content limit of 90 parts per million (ppm) on all paints and provides for a two-stage phase-out of lead-containing paints, which culminated on December 31, 2019.
Gothenburg, Sweden Toxic chemicals in plastic waste exports from wealthy countries are contaminating food in developing/transition countries around the world, according to a new study released today by the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN).
Virtually all plastics contain hazardous chemical additives. Most of the plastic waste exported from wealthy countries to countries with developing economies or economies in transition is landfilled, burned, or dumped into waterways. All of these disposal methods result in highly toxic emissions that remain in the environment for decades and build up in the food chain.
For this study, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in fourteen countries which in many cases receive plastic waste from abroad collected free-range chicken eggs in the vicinity of various plastic waste disposal sites and facilities. The egg collection sites included plastic and electronic waste yards; waste dumpsites with significant amounts of plastic wastes; recycling and shredder plants which deal with significant amounts of plastic waste; and waste incineration and waste-to-energy operations.
Both the African environment and the human health of Africans suffer from toxic chemicals and imported wastes more than in developed countries. Africa has become the destination of illegal toxic waste exports and, as this study shows, toxic chemicals are also present in toys, kitchen utensils, and other consumer products sold in African markets.