Chemicals & Waste
Contamination by chemicals is a global issue. While toxic chemicals are found practically in all ecosystems on earth, thus affecting biodiversity, agricultural production or water resources, scientists estimate that everyone today carries within her or his body a large number of chemical contaminants, for which the health impact is not precisely known.
At the end of their life, chemicals are recycled or disposed as part of waste. The inappropriate management of such waste (e.g. through open burning) poses negative impacts on human health and the environment.
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) will continue to play a catalytic role in leveraging budgetary resources from national governments and incentivizing the private sector to contribute more to the achievement of elimination and reduction of harmful chemicals and waste.
Scope of the challenge
Drivers to tackle:
- Prevent the exposure of humans and the environment to harmful chemicals and waste of global importance.
- Combine environmentally safe technologies and systems with financial and organizational mechanisms, policies, and practices that help countries move towards innovative, rapid, transformational change.
- Develop the enabling conditions, tools and environment for the sound management of harmful chemicals and wastes
- Reduce the prevalence of harmful chemicals and waste and support the implementation of clean alternative technologies/substances
Of all the pollutants released into the environment every year by human activity, Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are among the most dangerous. POPs are pesticides, industrial chemicals, or unwanted by-products of industrial processes that have been used for decades but have more recently been found to share a number of disturbing characteristics, including:
- Persistence — they resist degradation in air, water, and sediments;
- Bio-accumulation — they accumulate in living tissues at concentrations higher than those in the surrounding environment;
- Long-range transport — they can travel great distances from the source of release through air, water, and migratory animals, often contaminating areas thousands of kilometers away from any known source.
POPs are highly toxic and long-lasting, and cause an array of adverse effects, including disease and birth defects in humans and animals. Some of the severe health impacts from POPs include cancer, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, reproductive disorders, and disruption of the immune system.
POPs do not respect international borders, and are often intergenerational, affecting both adults and their children. POPs can affect people and wildlife even at very low doses. The serious environmental and human health hazards created by these chemicals particularly affect developing countries, where systems and technology for monitoring, tracking, and disposing of them can be weak or nonexistent. Across Africa, for example, at least 50,000 tons of obsolete pesticides are contaminating soil, water, air, and food sources.
Fullfilling the Stockholm Convention Objectives
Recognizing the dangers of POPs, many countries began limiting or banning their production, use, and release. These efforts culminated in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants that was adopted in 2001 and entered into force in 2004. More than 160 countries Parties to the Convention agree to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment. The Stockholm Convention focuses on POPs pesticides, industrial chemicals, and unintentional by-products of immediate concern.
The Stockholm Convention’s objectives include:
- Eliminating the production and use of specific POPs;
- Restricting the production and use of DDT only to disease vector control under WHO guidelines;
- Restricting exports of POPs;
- Developing strategies for identifying stockpiles of POPs and products containing POPs;
- Taking measures to ensure that POPs wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner;
- Developing strategies for identifying sites contaminated by POPs;
- Ensuring that PCBs are managed in an environmentally sound manner and, by 2025, take action to remove PCBs from use;
- Developing and implementing action plans to identify the sources and reduce releases of POPs byproducts; and
- Identifying other chemicals with POPs characteristics and bringing them under the control of the Convention.
The Stockholm Convention currently focuses on 21 POPs of immediate concern — pesticides, industrial chemicals, and unintentional byproducts.
The original 12 POPs are often referred to as “the dirty dozen”, namely:
Unintentional chemical by-products result from combustion and industrial processes and are among the most potent cancer-causing chemicals known.
In May 2009, the parties took the historic decisions to add 9 new chemicals to the list of controlled substances under the Convention: alpha- and beta hexachlorocyclohexane (by-products); lindane and chlordecone (pesticides); tetra- and hexabromodiphenyl ether, hexabromobiphenyl, pentachlorobenzene, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride (industrial chemicals).
These synthetic chemicals move everywhere, even through the placental barrier and into the womb, exposing the unborn during the most vulnerable stages of development.
Documentary Film: Mission Planet Detox
Two Chemicals & Waste GEF staffers take viewers to toxic chemical project sites in Asia, Africa and Latin America that are operating with the help of GEF funding and the implementation efforts of GEF partner agencies – the World Bank, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the United Nations Development Programme.