International Chemical Policy Work

Like a Dream: St. Lawrence Island youth reflects on Stockholm Convention meeting in Geneva

By Tiffany Immingan

Yupik youth Tiffany Immingan presents testimony before 1,000 delegates at the Stockholm Convention  in Geneva in May

Yupik youth Tiffany Immingan presents testimony before 1,000 delegates at the Stockholm Convention in Geneva in May

My experience in Geneva, Switzerland at the Conference of the Parties 6 (COP6) of the Stockholm Convention was all out amazing! It was like a dream. It had that “once in a life time” feeling, was so much fun and very educational for me. I felt mixed overwhelming emotions meant in the greatest possible way! It was a lot to take in, what with all the big words and very formal dress. I’m still processing the fact that I actually got to attend something so huge, and will not forget the experience.

The COP was established from Article 19 of the Convention and is the governing body of the Stockholm Convention. It now has 179 countries that have ratified it and we are disappointed that the United States is not among them. These meetings are held every two years.

I learned new things and to experience them first hand is the greatest. Before Alaska Community on Toxics (ACAT), I knew little about Northeast Cape or the military involvement on St. Lawrence Island. Before attending COP6, I didn’t know about theStockholm Convention or what its purpose was. Nor had I heard of hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), or that it was harmful. The Stockholm Convention focuses on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), pesticides and other industrial chemicals that harm the environment and people around the world. At this convention, an important decision was made, which was to list HBCD to Annex A of the Convention with specific exemptions. The chemical is a brominated flame retardant, commonly used in polystyrene foam for building insulation. There is still a lot that I don’t know. Thanks to ACAT and this experience, it actually opened my eyes. I’m really glad I had this opportunity.

To be selected to attend an International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) meeting and the Indigenous women’s meetings was a huge honor. At the IPEN meetings, it was both interesting and confusing. I didn’t understand it all, but it was a great experience anyway. During this meeting, I met other women from around the world with the same cause — to create a safer environment for future generations.

I was asked to give an intervention at the COP6 about why listing HBCD into Annex A with no exemptions was so important. It is important to list this chemical because it is one of many chemicals that harms developing children and is also linked with thyroid disease. I have never been so scared and nervous with a little excitement at the same time to give a speech (called an “intervention” at the United Nations)! I don’t regret giving it. It was my small contribution for the listing. To be honest, I was amazed with myself to give a speech in front of 1000 delegates. Before the intervention took place, I was shaking, nervous,frightened, and just plain freaking out! What made it all better was my aunt told me “Just imagine your mom and everyone else who passed on with cancer sitting in the front row seat.” I did and it made me feel so much better.

Now that I obtained this experience, I ask myself “What will I do?” I want to help raise awareness and to learn more from ACAT.

I really liked attending the Stockholm Convention. I did not mind wearing formal clothing, and someday I will learn the meaning of all the big words. I enjoyed every minute of my experience in Geneva.

P.S. We were so busy from early in the morning to late at night that I barely had time to see much of Geneva while we were there. I heard that there is a beautiful lake there. ❖

Read more in Pamela Miller’s article “Success at the International Stockholm Convention on Persistent Pollutants

Read the news release from IPEN: Governments provisionally agree to ban widely-used toxic chemical at UN meeting.

Fall 2013 Newsletter