Canadian position at international chemicals meeting ignores consumer product contamination problems; is at odds with public health protection

Apr 28 2017

Toronto, CANADA – The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) is concerned that the federal government’s stated commitment for a global phase-out of two highly toxic chemicals is undermined by its support for a recycling exemption in an international treaty. Decisions about implementation of the treaty, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are being debated this week in Geneva.

The two chemicals are pentabromodiphenyl ether (PentaBDE) and octabromodiphenyl ether (OctaBDE), part of the larger group of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). PentaBDE and OctaBDE were added to the treaty in 2009. A small group of countries, including Canada, obtained an exemption allowing recycling of articles containing these substances. The meeting in Geneva will decide whether to end the exemption or continue it. A PBDE decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE) is now being considered for elimination under this treaty.

CELA is very concerned that Canada is seeking to continue the recycling exemption for PentaBDE and OctaBDE. The exemption would allow for the presence of these toxic flame retardants in products created from recycling efforts. Both chemicals are found in e-waste, including many plastics, and are incorporated into new products as a result of recycling.

“A global focus to eliminate all PBDEs is necessary.” states Fe de Leon, a researcher at the CELA. “The elimination goal of the Stockholm Convention is severely undermined with Canada’s push to continue recycling exemptions. If allowed, we will continue to see the impact of these toxic flame retardants on the environment and our most vulnerable for many decades to come.”

In 2011, the Convention’s expert committee said that, “The objective is to eliminate brominated diphenyl ethers from the recycling streams as swiftly as possible.” The expert committee noted that, “Failure to do so will inevitably result in wider human and environmental contamination and the dispersal of brominated diphenyl ethers into matrices from which recovery is not technically or economically feasible and in the loss of the long-term credibility of recycling.”

PentaBDE and OctaBDE, like other persistent organic pollutants, are highly toxic and are known to persist and bioaccumulate in the environment, including Arctic ecosystems. These chemicals are associated with causing harm to the reproductive system and disrupt hormone systems, adversely impacting intelligence, attention, learning and memory.

Canada has regulated PBDEs (e.g. PentaBDE, OctaBDE and DecaBDE) under the Prohibition of Certain Toxic Substances Regulations, 2012. But, key exemptions exist domestically including, “the import, manufacture, use, sale and offer for sale of PBDEs or a product containing them, if PBDEs are incidentally present” as well as “the import, manufacture, use, sale or offer for sale of manufactured items containing PBDEs.”

“We are worried that Canada’s own national efforts on PBDEs fall short of achieving elimination of these substances and if taken to an international level, will undermine a more robust position in the global treaty.” states de Leon. “We look to our government to reset the regulatory button so that our national and international goals align on these POPs and truly achieve global elimination.”

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For information or media interview, contact:

Fe de Leon, MPH
Researcher and Paralegal
Email: deleonf@cela.ca
Telephone: 416-960-2284 Ext 7223
Cell: 416-317-1063

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