Chemical Safety and Obsolete Stocks

Responsible Waste management.

It was in October 4-8, 2004 that I traveled to Nairobi, Kenya to attend the second Preparatory Committee (PrepCom2) meeting to adopt a Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM). The SAICM is a global, intergovernmental strategic plan in support of chemical safety objectives. The planning process to formulate and adopt the SAICM consists of three global PrepComs followed by an International Conference on Chemicals Management that will adopt the SAICM. The first SAICM PrepCom 1 had already taken place in October 2003 in Bangkok.

Since chemical safety is such a contentious issue, I was not surprised to see that the Nairobi meeting drew delegates from more than one hundred governments. Representatives of Environment ministries and agencies predominated but ministries and agencies from Health, Agriculture, Labour, Industry, and Foreign Affairs were also present. Other active participants included public interest NGOs, industry trade organizations, trade unions, and academic organizations.

The International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) coordinated the engagement of IPEN Participating NGOs in the SAICM process. IPEN is a global network of public interest non-governmental organizations united in support of a common POPs Elimination Platform. The mission of IPEN is to work for the global elimination of persistent organic pollutants, on an expedited yet socially equitable basis. I was glad to see that approximately 30 IPEN-participating NGOs from 18 countries participated in the meeting.

IPEN General Assembly meeting (3 October, 2005)

IPEN is recognized as a significant participant in the SAICM process and IPEN coordinates regular joint meetings to exchange information and strategies with the SAICM European Union (EU) delegation, the SAICM African delegation and others.

Prior to the PrepCom 2 meeting, the 2004 IPEN General Assembly was held on the 3 October. The objectives of the assembly was to: Prepare/Strategic Planning for IPEN at the Stockholm Convention’s first Conference of the Parties (COP1) in May 2005; Review 2004 and develop 2005 IPEN Work Group (WG) work plans, and Prepare IPEN stakeholders for SAICM PrepCom 2.

Some of the outputs for the IPEN meeting included that IPEN would partner with other NGO networks to promote a major “NGO COP1 Campaign,” a bio-monitoring project to create “new POPs data points,” a coordinated Global Week of Action (April 20-25th, 2005, noting Earth-Day on April 22nd) and Side Events at COP1. It was agreed that in order to ensure full participation in the upcoming activities, a key component for a successful NGO COP1 Campaign included that all IPEN participating Organizations incorporate COP1 into their 2005 NGO work plans and strategies. The key strategic themes Working Groups identified were COP1, International POPs Elimination Project (IPEP) and the SAICM Process.

PrepCom 2 meeting, (4-8 October)

The main PrepCom2 meeting agreed that the formal outputs of the SAICM process will be three documents: An Overarching Policy Strategy (OPS); A Global Plan of Action (GPA); and A High-Level Declaration.  For the OPS, it was proposed the OPS would have elements such as: Scope; Statement of needs; Objectives; Principles and approaches; Implementation and taking stock of progress, and Financial Considerations. These elements and their content would be further developed at PrepCom 3.

There was considerable discussion at the meeting aimed at developing a listing of what is being termed “SAICM Concrete Measures,” with the understanding that reaching agreement on the SAICM Concrete Measures will provide the substantive content for both the SAICM Global Plan of Action (GPA) and also the SAICM High-Level Declaration. I was glad to hear that a large number of proposed concrete measures (e.g. existing chemical conventions; multi-stakeholder participation; public participation, transparency and openness, etc) were introduced by NGOs associated with the IPEN Network. These concrete measures however would still need to be adopted and would form the main text for the GPA. The Concrete Measures, together with inputs from SAICM Regional Meetings, will be reflected in the High-Level Declaration: a relatively short statement that can be submitted for adoption at ministerial level meetings such as the Global Environment Ministers Forum and possibly other high level meetings.

Africa stockpiles (ASP) NGO Meeting

During the SAICM meeting, NGOs from Africa (South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, and Nigeria) and other continents (Mauritius) met to discuss the Africa Stockpile Program (ASP) and their concerns regarding the destruction of the obsolete pesticides using incineration. The African NGO’s were concerned by the apparent push by the cement industry in South Africa to burn hazardous waste in cement kilns, which could include obsolete pesticides and herbicides. It was noted that major cement firms in South Africa were seeking permission to burn hazardous waste. NGO’s were shocked to find out that in the minutes of a pre-application meeting between the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs (DAEA) and a cement company, government officials have requested the company to burn agricultural waste.

There was a fear that if the South African government allowed for the burning of hazardous waste in cement kilns that after South Africa the cement industry is going to ask for the burning of hazardous waste in other cement plants in Africa; or that the stockpiled waste from African countries is going to be exported and disposed of in cement kilns in South Africa.

The NGO’s tabled a letter to the ASP Partners, particularly the lead intergovernmental organizations, to clarify their position regarding the possible use of proposed or existing incineration and cement kiln facilities in Africa to destroy the stockpiled waste. We still await a response.

Meeting with National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)

On November 2, groundWork met with the NUM an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU). The aim of the meeting was to inform NUM of the proposal by the cement industries in South Africa to burn hazardous waste in their cement kilns and the effect that this would have on cement workers. Representatives of NUM were unaware of these proposals and were shocked during the presentation to hear that studies as recently as 2003 regarding the burning of hazardous waste in cement kilns showed workers suffering from interstitial lung disease, pleural thickening, chronic bronchitis and various cancers. Of great concern to NUM was the fact that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had identified cement kilns as the third largest source of dioxin emissions, a carcinogen, and the second largest source of mercury emissions, a neurotoxin, in the atmosphere. There was agreement by NUM representatives that no workers or surrounding communities should be exposed to such toxic pollution by such an outrageous proposal. NUM has since invited groundWork to present the concerns surrounding incineration at its national meeting to be held on November 25.

Lichtenburg Community

After a successful meeting with NUM, groundWork travelled to Lichtenburg (Ditsobotla Local Municipality – DLM) to meet Mr. J. Bogatsu, Mayor of Lichtenburg who eagerly awaited our arrival. Holcim cement located in Dudfield, Lichtenburg, has proposed to replace their existing coal fuel with hazardous waste. We were not surprised to hear that although Holcim cement had informed the mayor of their proposal, he was not aware that hazardous waste would be burnt in his community. No draft Environmental Impact Reports have been forwarded to the municipality for comment, nor any proper consultation with the surrounding communities conducted.

I was shocked to hear that in addition to Holmic cement, other cement industries such as Pretoria Portlands Cement (PPC), Natal Portlands Cement (NPC) and Lafarge Cement were also present in the community. Representatives of the municipality were concerned that since the community was largely an agricultural producing areas that the pollution arising from the burning of hazardous waste in cement kilns will have an affect on this sector. The air pollution and release of dioxin will cause contamination of not only the environment, but also the health of the people in Lichtenburg.

The municipality was glad to hear that previous attempts to carry out the same process by Peacock Bay Environmental Services (PBES) to build a hazardous waste incinerator in Port Alexander in the Northern Cape was vetoed by the Free State Government in 2002 after the local Mayor of the Metsimaholo Municipality (Sasolburg) and the local council disapproved of the proposal to burn hazardous waste in Sasolburg.

Other concerns raised were the fact that if the process goes ahead Lichtenburg will be used as a dumping ground for other people’s poisonous waste with South Africa (and possibly in Africa in future) and that other surrounding cement companies would follow suit. The mayor has since addressed letters to both the Deputy Minister and MEC to consider seriously vetoing this proposal until government has a clear policy on this issue.

Conclusion

During all meetings, there was general consensus that no community should be used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste of industries that are making profits and not dealing with their waste responsibly. We need to move away from waste disposal to waste management.  What is of serious concern for the broader SA is that the waste that will be burnt will create chemicals that will be deposited into the cement that will be used in construction in South Africa.  As this cement ages the toxic chemicals will be released in the environment and impact upon people.

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