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Regional effort to eliminate the worst chemicals produces benefits for Belize

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Posted: Tuesday, October 4, 2022. 9:29 am CST.

Photo Credit: Larry Miller/Getty Images/Time Magazine

By Aaron Humes: Minister of Sustainable Development Orlando Habet is this week in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, for a closing meeting by project stakeholders of the “Development and Sustainable Management Mechanism for Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the Caribbean” hosted by the Basel Convention Regional Centre for Training and Technology Transfer for the Caribbean (BCRC-Caribbean).

A high-level panel discussion follows this afternoon, Tuesday, entitled “Advancing sustainable development in the Caribbean by protecting human health and the environment from Persistent Organic Pollutants.”

For the past seven years, a US$9 million effort funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) has been working to identify and eliminate POPs by establishing inventories of POP chemicals, creating management mechanisms for demonstration sites, training hundreds of personnel, and fostering new national programs, including legislation, to help the countries meet their commitments and obligations under an international convention. The project outputs have also inspired changes in public behaviour towards waste management.

Persistent Organic Pollutants are long-lasting, accumulative chemicals including Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that are slow to degrade and can gradually migrate as far north and south as the Earth’s poles. They show up in imported pesticides, firefighting foams and other products, including transformers, electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and foreign-used vehicles or can be unintentionally produced through poor waste management and industrial processes.

Not only do POPs harm the environment, but exposure to even low levels in food or the air can increase the risk of cancer, reproductive disorders, immune system alterations and birth defects – all avoidable. The Stockholm Convention was created to help countries end or reduce their production, use, and/or release of these toxic persistent organic pollutants. It requires parties to eliminate the production and use of 26 of the listed chemicals, such as DDT commonly used to prevent the spread of malaria, and PFOS/PFOSF (Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride), which have been used to make products more resistant to stains, grease, and water, and to make firefighting foams.

In each of the eight participating countries, the project comprehensively inventoried their POP chemicals – including DDT and PCBs (two of the original “dirty dozen” POPs under the Stockholm Convention), and the more recent additions to the POP list. Insights from the inventories moved some of the countries closer to eliminating PCBs from their territories, one of the Stockholm Convention’s most important objectives. As an important obligation, all eight countries have now updated their Stockholm Convention National Implementation Plans as part of the project.

In the case of Belize, the project assisted in the improvement of medical waste disposal. The Belize medical waste management review led to the installation of an autoclave – a machine that sterilizes waste at very high temperature and pressure to kill pathogens before final disposal. Autoclaving presents the opportunity to reduce the unintentionally produced POPs compared to incineration. Today most Belizean medical facilities now comply with sound waste management practices.

Other project results include Standard Operating Procedures set for enforcement inspectors; awareness raising strategies and a communications toolkit (www.stopthepops.com), contributing to a 30% improvement in regional public awareness of POPs; a regional lab with capabilities for POPs analysis; preliminary site and risk assessments of priority contaminated sites; and assessments and recommendations for lab equipment and capacity building.

 

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