Experts mull global ban on commercial chemicals
GENEVA (Reuters) - Experts and officials from some 150 countries started talks on Monday on banning production of nine chemicals considered potentially dangerous but still used in farming and for other commercial purposes.
If agreement is reached at the week-long meeting, under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the nine will join a list of 12 other so-called persistent organic pollutants, or POPS, long targeted for elimination.
"The risks posed by such chemicals are profound, and these toxic substances leave chemical footprints around the globe," said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner, who will be watching over the Geneva gathering.
The newly-targeted chemicals include products -- known normally under their scientific names -- that are widely used for pesticides and are also used in the manufacture of flame retardants and similar items.
The original 12 POPS -- dubbed the "dirty dozen" and widely blamed for damaging human nervous systems, causing cancer and disrupting the development of young children -- were listed under a 2001 international pact called the Stockholm Convention.
But as these have been removed from production lines, focus has switched to extending the banned list to other highly toxic chemicals that take many years, often decades, to degrade into less dangerous forms.
Among the new ones to be considered this week are Alpha hexachlorocyclohexane, Hexabromidyphenyl ether, Chlordecone, Hexabromobiphenyl, Lindane, Pentachlorobenzene and Perfluorooctane, according to UNEP.
UNEP says these, like the "dirty dozen," pose special risks to young people, farmers, pregnant women and the unborn, and to remote communities like those in the Arctic where Inuit women and polar bears have been found to have large POP doses in their own bodies.
The pollutant chemicals can evaporate and travel long distances through air and water to regions far from their original source and accumulate in the fatty tissues of both humans and animals.
A thaw in the Arctic linked to global warming may allow some of the chemicals, long-trapped under sea ice, to evaporate into the atmosphere and spread further around the polar region, an expert said on Monday.
Agreement at the Geneva meeting, which ends on May 8, could mark a major step toward creating a healthier and more sustainable green economy for the world, said Steiner, while lifting a health threat to millions of people.
(Editing by Jon Hemming)
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