UN Expert Committee: Pentachlorophenol is one of the world’s worst chemicals
Agrees to incorporate climate change impacts in toxic chemical evaluation
(Rome, Italy) A UN expert committee recommended global action on pentachlorophenol – a pesticide used for wood treatment including utility poles. The Committee justified its recommendation for the Stockholm Convention due to pentachlorophenol’s persistence, bioaccumulation, long-range transport, and its toxic impacts. Governments around the world will decide on the recommendation in 2015.
“This is the beginning of the end of pentachlorophenol,” said Pam Miller, Alaska Community Action on Toxics. “Pentachlorophenol has global health implications since it is found in the bodies of people throughout the world including Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic. Now governments and the private sector need to get to work to eliminate this toxic chemical.”
The Stockholm Convention expert committee also agreed to include climate change as a factor in its assessments of candidate chemicals. The guidance document notes that warming temperatures can liberate toxic chemicals and increase their toxicity and exposure.
“There has been a fundamental shift in the committee, as they now must take into considerations the serious impact of climate change and endocrine disruption when they assess these very persistent and toxic chemicals,” said Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, senior policy advisor for IPEN
Unfortunately, India blocked further evaluation of the pesticide, dicofol, delaying the process for one year. India’s government is the world’s largest producer of the substance and was the only member of the Committee that disagreed with moving it forward in the evaluation. In fact, India denied that the substance possessed adverse effects despite the fact it is used to kill insects.
“It really is unacceptable that one country with such a clear conflict of interest can be permitted to undermine the credibility of the whole committee by using its privileged position to block a chemical that is clearly toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative’, said Dr Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network.
The Committee also recommended listing two new chemicals in the treaty; chlorinated naphthalenes and hexachlorobutadiene. Both substances are primarily generated by waste incineration but hexachlorobutadiene is also generated unintentionally during the production of the dry cleaning solvent, perchloroethylene. The Committee document notes that substituting perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene with safer alternatives could help reduce the production of hexachlorobutadiene.
IPEN is an international NGO comprised of 700 organizations in 116 countries that work to minimize, and whenever possible, eliminate, hazardous, toxic substances internationally and within their own countries. IPEN has been actively involved in the POPRC process for nine years.
Thank you, Mr. Arndt, Chairperson of the POPRC, for the opportunity to present an intervention of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Pesticide Action Network, and IPEN. My name is Pamela Miller, Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics.
We observe that there is sufficient, definitive evidence that PCP-PCA warrant global action, that the substances, especially considered together, meet Annex E requirements. Therefore, we urge you to move these forward to Annex F consideration.
Studies have demonstrated toxic effects at environmental levels in aquatic species. In wildlife and people, concentrations are well within the range of observed in vivo and in vitro developmental, endocrine, and neurological eﬀects. Particular the most compelling evidence of PCP in breast milk, blood, amniotic fluid, and other human tissues throughout the world, including peoples of the Arctic—warrants swift global action.
In a critical review and metaanalysis of 75 published papers, PCP is the major halogenated phenolic compound found in human blood. Researchers assessing contaminants in humans concluded that PCP supercedes PCBs as the chlorinated compound of highest concern in humans. Prenatal exposure to PCP correlates with worse coordination, less sensory integrity, worse attention, and worse visuomotor integration children at school age. It was further found that PCP correlated with lower levels of thyroid hormone. Based on their results, the scientists concluded in a plea that “unrelenting efforts should be made to find safe alternatives.”
Significant new information regarding toxic interactions between PCP and PFOS and PFOA also highlights the urgency of global action. PFOS and PFOA strengthen PCP cytotoxicity and hepatotoxicity. Inuit people of Nunuvik were found to have higher mean plasmatic PFOS concentrations than mean total PCB levels, followed by p,p’-DDE and pentachlorophenol. This indicates that both PFOS and PCP exposure levels were among the highest found in this Inuit population. And in light of the paper demonstrating that PFOS/PFOA increase the cytotoxicity of PCP, this may have profound implications for human health, particularly among Arctic Indigenous populations.
Finally, considering the long-term hazards of dioxin contamination and implications for environmental and human exposure—in the manufacturing process, in treated wood in use and treated wood waste, and the fact that dioxins and furans are transformation products of PCP—make it even more urgent to move this substance forward toward global elimination.
Pamela Miller, Executive Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics