GENEVA - A summit on chemicals and hazardous wastes ended Friday with an agreement to globally phase out a widely used flame retardant and to accept stricter requirements for disclosing information about exports of four other chemicals.
But participants fell short in their efforts to require more information and consent among nations trading in a construction material, Chrysotile asbestos, and a formulation of the powerful herbicide, Paraquat, despite support from most of the 169 nations represented at the two-week U.N. summit.
Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said the negotiations by delegates to three major environmental treaties reflected awareness that many of the 100,000 chemicals used by industry or agriculture, or sold in commercial products, still haven't been tested for their effects on people and nature.
"If you just take the fact that 100,000 of these are out there, you can imagine that for many countries, particularly for developing countries and least-developed countries, this presents an enormous problem simply being able to ascertain, to regulate and to manage the inflow of these products. That is why international co-operation is essential," Steiner said.
"Some of these compounds are dangerous, some of them are lethal, whether to human health, to the environment," he added. "Therefore, as evidence becomes available, the conventions have tried to provide the mechanisms for the phasing out of these substances, or for introducing the principle of prior informed consent, so countries are made aware that products they import contain substances that are deemed to be of high risk, or of great danger to environment and human health."
Officials in charge of three key international treaties said delegates agreed by consensus to a gradual phase out of the flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane, or HBCD, which is used in building insulation, furniture, vehicles and electronics. The phase out would begin a little more than a year from now, but there also would be specific exemptions for five years on some construction uses in buildings.
The chemical will be added to the Stockholm Convention, which now regulates 22 toxic substances such as DDT and PCBs. The treaty takes aim at chemicals that can travel long distances in the environment and don't break down easily.
Delegates also agreed to tougher controls on disclosure of information about exports of an insecticide, Azinphos-methyl; two flame retardants, PentaBDE and OctaBDE; and a fabric protector, PFOS. But efforts to include two other substances — Chrysotile asbestos and a Paraquat formulation — were blocked by a few nations. India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe did not support adding Chrysotile asbestos; Guatemala and India were opposed to adding the Paraquat formulation.
The Paraquat formulation already is banned in more than 40 countries, including Switzerland, the home country of agrochemicals giant Syngenta, the main manufacturer of it.
Those actions fell under the Rotterdam Convention, which regulates information about the export and import of 43 hazardous chemicals.
Some 1,885 delegates and observers participated in the first joint meeting of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions that govern chemicals and hazardous waste and are each headquartered in Geneva. The conference culminated in a high-level meeting among about 80 ministers.
The Basel Convention regulates the export and import of hazardous waste. Participants in that treaty tried to finalize e-waste guidelines, but they were not adopted because some developed countries and the electronics industry would not agree without adding loopholes to allow repairable electronic waste to be exempted, said advocacy group IPEN, a global network of more than 700 public interest non-governmental organizations.