Ospar takes first step on hazardous substances

Mechanism for prioritising chemicals for phase-out adopted; progress made on offshore sites, eutrophication

The annual meeting of parties to the Ospar convention on protecting the north-east Atlantic ended in Copenhagen today, with significant progress towards implementing a 1998 agreement to drastically reduce pollution over the next 20 years. The meeting was politically dominated by a row over nuclear reprocessing (ENDS Daily 29 July) and today's publication of a first major regional environmental quality review (see separate article, this issue). But progress was also made on a range of other fronts, which we summarise here.

Key to these was agreement on a mechanism to prioritise chemicals for inclusion in a priority list for phase-out under the Sintra commitment to virtually eliminate all marine pollution by hazardous substances by 2020. Based on this, 12 new substances were added to 15 already on the existing priority list agreed at the Sintra meeting in 1998.

Only one of these - hexamethyldisiloxane - was controversial, sources said. An environmental NGO campaigner told ENDS Daily that industry observers wanted to see more data on the chemical's impacts before its adoption for priority phase-out. The chemical is used in toiletries and as an intermediate in the production of silicones.

On other issues, Ospar parties adopted new controls on the use and discharge of chemicals and drilling fluids by offshore installations and took further steps to control eutrophication and pollution by pesticides.

For eutrophication, the meeting agreed which regions should be included in Ospar anti-eutrophication measures and set up trial system for harmonised reporting. The trial system sidesteps an ongoing dispute between parties over how diffuse nutrient discharges should be measured and reported.

Pesticide use also was discussed, and recommendations adopted on best environmental practice for pesticide use in amenity areas and in agriculture. A recommendation was also issued on emission limits for emulsion PVC manufacturers.

Closely watching this week's meeting were all of Europe's main environmental groups. Aside from the dispute over nuclear reprocessing, their main fire was directed at progress on selecting hazardous substances for phase-out. In particular, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), countries are making too moving too slowly on preparing to phase-out substances already on the Ospar priority list. At Sintra, Ospar parties agreed to be ready to make decisions on all 15 of these within three years. WWF complains that only three assessments have been completed so far, and work has not even started yet for cadmium.

Follow Up:
Ospar, tel: +44 20 74 30 52 00 (Summary record of Copenhagen meeting will be posted on the site). WWF north east Atlantic, +49 421 658 4622.

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