UN chemicals summit expected to adopt new controls

The conference will culminate in a high-level meeting among about 80 ministers on May 9-10.

Geneva: At the start of a major conference to regulate chemical and hazardous waste safety, top officials voiced optimism today that delegates will approve new international controls on several industrial compounds and agree to clamp down on some cross-border pollution.

The three key international treaties that govern chemicals and hazardous waste, each headquartered in Geneva, are holding an unprecedented joint two-week convention of more than 1,500 delegates from 170 nations that is meant to consider new limits on some substances and look at ways the treaties can be better put to use together.

The conference will culminate in a high-level meeting among about 80 ministers on May 9-10.

Jim Willis, executive secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, said he expects delegates will likely agree to gradually ban one of the commonly used flame retardants, hexabromocyclododecane, or HBCD which is put in building insulation, furniture, vehicles and electronics while exempting some uses in buildings.

Such a ban would come under the Stockholm Convention, which now regulates 22 toxic substances, such as DDT and PCBs, that travel long distances and don`t break down easily, working their way up the food chain.

Willis told reporters that delegates also are expected to accept stricter requirements for disclosing information about exports of several other substances including a powerful herbicide, Paraquat.

The others are an insecticide, Azinphos-methyl; two flame retardants, PentaBDE and OctaBDE; a fabric protector, PFOS; and the construction material, Chrysotile asbestos. That action would come under the Rotterdam Convention, which regulates information about the export and import of 43 hazardous chemicals.

Together, the three treaties aim to "help countries to take better control of the pesticides they agree to use," said Christine Fuell, a senior technical officer with the UN`s Food and Agriculture Organisation who helps oversee the Rotterdam Convention.

Perhaps the most contentious proposals involve HBCD which has been found in human breast milk and tissues and in wildlife and marine life around the world, raising health concerns and Chrysotile asbestos, which is linked to respiratory disease and lung cancer, said Joe DiGangi, a science adviser with advocacy group IPEN, a global network of more than 700 public interest non-governmental organisations.