Use of toxic chemical HBCD severely restricted under Stockholm Convention

The persistent organic pollutant is used in building insulation, especially in the EU

By Soma Basu
Published: Saturday 04 May 2013

Nations that are signatories to the Stockholm Convention, a global treaty to protect public health from persistent organic pollutants (PoPs), have now severely restricted the use of a toxic chemical widely used in building insulation.

The chemical, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), which is a persistent bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemical, was listed in Annex A of the Stockholm Convention at the sixth Conference of Parties (CoP 6) to the treaty in Geneva on Thursday. PBTs are chemicals that do not degrade easily and accumulate in tissues; they are linked to adverse health effects in humans and animals. A ban has also been imposed on recycling of products containing HBCD.

Nations participating in the conference also decided to require labeling new building insulation products containing HBCD to help countries separate dangerous products and wastes.
The meeting also saw countries confirm that ecosystem-based pest management should be the priority for replacing a deadly pesticide, endosulfan, which causes irreversible damage to humans and the environment.

The CoP meet decided to amend Part 1 of Annex A after having considered the risk profile and the risk management evaluation and its addendum for HBCD prepared by the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC). The review committee had recommended listing of HBCD in Annex A to the Convention, but with specific exemptions for its production and use in expanded polystyrene and extruded polystyrene in buildings.

Annex A lists the chemicals that should be subject to measures envisaging its elimination by the Parties to the Convention—the process to phase out HBCD would start by the end of 2014. Annex B lists chemicals that should have their production and use restricted by the Parties. Annex C lists chemicals that should be subject to measures aiming to reduce unintentional releases with the goal of continuing minimisation. The decision is set to be adopted formally on the final day of the conference on May 10.

HBCD, a brominated flame retardant widely used in building insulation, upholstery and electronics in the European Union (EU), has adverse effects on the development of the nerve system and mental abilities of children and is earmarked for global elimination. It can also disrupt the hormone system.

Vito Buonsante, lawyer with non-profit ClientEarth, says, given the fact that the half-life of this chemical is about 50 years, an exemption to a country would have technically extended the presence of this harmful chemical in the global environment and society for over a century. In the EU, HBCD is a ‘substance of very high concern under REACH (the European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use).
The 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (BC COP-11), the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention (RC COP-6), the Stockholm Convention COP-6 and the second simultaneous extraordinary meetings of the three conferences of the Parties to the three conventions (ExCOPs-2) are being held back-to-back from April 28 to May 10.


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