Nine new POPs and the treaty making process

Treaty making process for nine new POPs (February 2011)

In August 2010, nine new chemicals were added to the Stockholm Convention's annexes. These are the first chemicals to be added to the annexes since Australia signed up to the Convention in 2004. For Australia, an amendment to the annexes takes effect upon ratification of that amendment. Accordingly, Australia is now considering ratification, and to do so must undertake a domestic treaty making process.

Australia supported the addition of the new POPs to the Convention following stakeholder consultation in early 2009.

In order to understand the implications of the ratification, the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (the department) will prepare a regulatory impact analysis and a national interest analysis. Consultations began in December 2010, with a meeting of the Stockholm Reference Group. The department is continuing consultation with other Australian and state and territory government agencies, and affected industry, environment and public health groups to gather information to support this work.

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Nine new POPs

New chemicals added to Stockholm Convention annexes

In 2004, the first 12 POPs to be listed in annexes to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants were aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), mirex, toxaphene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), DDT, dioxins and furans.

However, the Convention recognises that there are other chemicals that could pose similar risks to human health and the environment. Therefore it includes a mechanism for other chemicals with POPs characteristics to be added to the annexes.

Accordingly, the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention agreed in May 2009 to add nine new POPs to the Convention's annexes (see Table 1 below). These are the first chemicals to be added to the annexes since Australia signed up to the Convention in 2004.

Listing places an obligation on parties to eliminate or significantly restrict the use of these chemicals.

Treaty making process

For 151 parties, the treaty amendment adding the nine chemicals came into force on 26 August 2010. However, for Australia, an amendment to the annexes takes effect only after Australia ratifies that amendment. Accordingly, Australia is considerating ratification and must now go through a domestic treaty making process.

The department is responsible for the treaty making process, which will require a regulatory impact analysis and preparation of a Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) as well as a National Interest Analysis. An initial RIS was prepared prior to the Conference of the Parties meeting in 2009, but the technical implications of the listing must now be explored and resolved in greater detail. Significant stakeholder consultation will be required to refine the issues and quantify impacts.

Use of newly listed chemicals in Australia

Several of the newly listed POPs including chlordecone, alpha hexachlorocyclohexane, beta hexachlorocyclohexane and hexabromobiphenyl are no longer used in Australia. Chlordecone has never been used in Australia and hexabromobiphenyl was phased out in the 1970s.

Lindane (gamma-hexachlorocyclohexane)

Lindane is an organochlorine insecticide and acaricide. For many years it had very limited use in Australia, with only one product available to control white grubs and symphilids in pineapples and a permit was required for its import.

In January 2010, the sole registrant advised that the importation of lindane's active constituent had ceased in 2009 and that it wished to cancel the registration of the product. The process to cancel the sole remaining lindane product registration and remove the label was completed on 7 June 2010.

A person may continue to supply and use the product according to its label instructions until 7 June 2012. After this date, it will be an offence against the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Codes Act 1994 to supply or use lindane.

Pentachlorobenzene (PeCB)

PeCB is unintentionally produced as a result of waste incineration and certain industrial processes. Current measures to control unintentional production of HCB, PCBs and dioxins and furans are expected to also be effective in reducing unintentional production of PeCB.

Polybrominated flame retardants (PBDEs): pentabromodiphenyl ether (pentaBDE) and octabromodiphenyl ether (octaBDE)

PentaBDE and octaBDE are brominated flame retardants that are present in many currently used consumer articles, including some, but not all, electrical and electronic equipment, carpets, mattresses, and foam cushions such as those used in furniture and car seats. They are not used in new articles manufactured in Australia (as octaBDE can only be imported following notification and assessment by NICNAS and an interim ban is in place for the import and manufacture of pentaBDE), but may be present in imported articles.

The Convention has requirements regarding stockpiles and wastes containing listed chemicals. Consequently, the listings of octaBDE and pentaBDE have implications for how articles containing these chemicals are treated upon becoming wastes.

PBDEs are also present in some articles that are recycled in Australia, for example, in plastic casings of TVs and computers. The amendments to the Convention contain a time-limited exemption which allows parties to continue to recycle these types of articles, subject to the conditions noted in the table below. This exemption is intended to give parties time to develop and implement methods for removing the PBDEs from articles prior to recycling.

There are significant technical and regulatory challenges in meeting these requirements. Internationally, technical work is underway in the scientific committee established under the Convention, the POP Review Committee, to develop guidance materials on how to tackle issues such as identification of waste articles that contain the BDEs, procedures for detection and separation, issues associated with recycling, and appropriate methods of destruction. Within Australia, significant consultation with government and industry will be required over the coming months to work through these issues.

Perfluorooctane sulphonate (PFOS)

PFOS derivatives are or have been used in a wide variety of applications such as textiles and leather products, metal plating, food packaging, fire fighting foams, floor polishes, denture cleansers, shampoos, coatings and coating additives, in the photographic and photolithographic industry, medical devices and in hydraulic fluids in the aviation industry.

It is the department's understanding that most PFOS used in Australia is for mist suppression in metal plating, particularly hexavalent chromium plating. Long-term use of PFOS for this purpose is allowed under the Stockholm Convention only for closed-loop systems. Open system metal plating is allowed only for a limited time - a five-year specific exemption, with the possibility of another five-year extension.

Other OECD countries such as the European Union, Canada and Japan have moved, or are moving, to closed-loop systems. Consequently, there will be pressure on Australia to move from open loop to closed loop systems by 2015 or 2020. Significant consultation with industry will be undertaken over the coming months to work through any issues.

Chemicals added to the annexes of the Stockholm Convention in 2010

Table 1: Information about the effects of listing the nine new POPs
Chemical Effect of listing
Chlordecone Complete ban on production and use
Lindane (gamma hexachlorocyclohexane) Ban on production and use except that countries may apply for a specific exemption for continued use for control of head lice
Alpha hexachlorocyclohexane (alpha HCH) Complete ban on production and use
Beta hexachlorocyclohexane (beta HCH) Complete ban on production and use
Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)

Ban on production and use except for specified acceptable purposes and specific exemptions:

Acceptable purposes: (not time limited)

  • Photo-imaging
  • Photo-resist and anti-reflective coatings for semi-conductors
  • Etching agent for compound semi-conductors and ceramic filters
  • Aviation hydraulic fluids
  • Metal plating (hard metal plating) only in closed-loop systems
  • Certain medical devices (such as ethylene tetrafluoroethylene copolymer (ETFE) layers and radio-opaque ETFE production, in-vitro diagnostic medical devices, and CCD colour filters)
  • Fire-fighting foam
  • Insect baits for control of leaf-cutting ants from Atta spp. and Acromyrmex spp.

Specific exemptions: (5 years initially, renewal possible)

  • Photo masks in the semiconductor and liquid crystal display (LCD) industries
  • Metal plating (hard metal)
  • Metal plating (decorative)
  • Electric and electronic parts for some colour printers and colour copy machines
  • Insecticides for control of red imported fire ants and termites
  • Chemically driven oil production
  • Carpets
  • Leather and apparel
  • Textiles and upholstery
  • Paper and packaging
  • Coatings and coating additives
  • Rubber and plastics
Hexabromobiphenyl (HBB) Complete ban on production and use.
Commercial pentabromodiphenyl ether (c-penta BDE)
(The commercial penta contains both tetra- and pentabromodiphenyl ethers)

Ban on production and use except that recycling of articles containing the chemical may be permitted under a time-limited specific exemption provided it is carried out in an environmentally sound manner and subject to other conditions, as follows:

1. A party may allow recycling of articles that contain or may contain tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether, and the use and final disposal of articles manufactured from recycled materials that contain or may contain tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether, provided that:

(a) The recycling and final disposal is carried out in an environmentally sound manner and does not lead to recovery of tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether for the purpose of their reuse;

(b) The party does not allow this exemption to lead to the export of articles containing levels/concentrations of tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether that exceed those permitted to be sold within the territory of the party; and

(c) The party has notified the Secretariat of its intention to make use of this exemption.

2. At its sixth ordinary meeting and at every second ordinary meeting thereafter the Conference of the Parties shall evaluate the progress parties made towards achieving their ultimate objective of elimination of tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether contained in articles and review the continued need for this specific exemption. This specific exemption shall in any case expire at the latest in 2030.

Commercial octabromodiphenyl ether (c-octa BDE) (the commercial octa contains hexa- and heptabromodiphenyl ethers) As for pentabromodiphenyl ether above.
Pentachlorobenzene Complete ban on intentional production and use. Measures to reduce or eliminate unintentional production.