Long-banned toxic chemicals remain
a global threat
July 2022: Most countries are failing to remove hazardous PCBs despite Stockholm treaty commitments. A new report has found that many countries are not on track to remove their stocks of highly hazardous polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) by the 2028 deadline set forth in the Stockholm Convention, the global chemicals management treaty. New analysis by researchers at Masaryk University, the University of Toronto, and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has found more than 10 million tonnes of PCB-containing materials remain. These pose public health and environmental threats globally.
PCBs are persistent organic pollutants and carcinogens that were widely used for their insulating and flame retardant properties. These were banned in the late 1970s by many countries, including the US and Canada, but the chemicals are still present in transformers, capacitors and building materials across the world. “With effective regulations and good governance, Canada has successfully managed and destroyed its PCB stocks. However, evidence suggests that Canada has not applied this lesson learned to other highly hazardous chemicals,” comments co-author Miriam Diamond, Professor, Department of Earth Sciences and School of the, Environment, University of Toronto.
“We’re only six years out from the Stockholm Convention’s deadline to responsibly eliminate PCB stocks, but shockingly little progress has been made,” says Lisa Melymuk, Assistant Professor of Environmental Chemistry, Masaryk University and co-author of the report. Additional findings from the report, Persistent Problem: Global Challenges to Managing PCBs, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, include:
42 per cent of Stockholm Convention signatories are unaware of the amounts and locations of PCB stocks in their country;
Only 30 per cent of Stockholm Convention signatories are on track to meet the target of environmentally sound management of all PCBs by 2028;
A lack of administrative, financial and political capacities are key impediments to managing PCB stocks successfully, especially in low-income countries, despite these countries not being responsible for most PCB production or use;
The US, the world’s largest producer and user of PCBs, was found to have reduced its sizeable stocks by only about three per cent since 2006. Despite having the financial capacity to eliminate PCBs responsibly, the US has no regulatory deadlines to do so. It is not a party to the Stockholm Convention, and its PCB inventory is poorly documented compared to Canada and Czechia; and
The inability of global agreements like the Stockholm Convention to manage PCBs effectively bodes poorly for the management of other toxic chemicals that are found in myriad products, like the highly persistent PFAS (per-and poly fluoroalkyl substances) and chlorinated paraffin chemicals.
Veena Singla, Senior Scientist, NRDC, also a contributor to the report, warns that: “Global mismanagement and inequities make elimination of these persistent chemicals unlikely. This analysis is an international wake-up call to limit the production of hazardous chemicals, like PCBs. We just can’t clean up the mess that they create.”
In CRJ 16:4, Emily Hough spoke to Robert Bilott, the lawyer who helped to expose the dangers of PFOA in a long legal battle. Click here for more details on the edition in which her interview appears.
Click here for info about Dark Waters, the movie based on Robert Bilott’s efforts to expose the dangers of PFOA.