Ospar states discuss Sintra implementation

Rapporteur countries appointed on priority hazardous substances, oil rig dumping guidelines agreed

European countries bordering the Atlantic plus Luxembourg and Switzerland have taken their first formal steps towards implementing last year's historic agreement to completely end discharges of hazardous substances to the marine environment by 2020, during the annual meeting of the Ospar convention which ended on Friday.

The historic "Sintra" agreement, named after the Portuguese town in which it was negotiated, commits Ospar parties to "cease emissions, discharges and losses" to the sea of hazardous and radioactive substances and to achieve "close to zero" concentrations of both categories in the marine environment (ENDS Daily 23 July 1998).

During a week of talks in Kingston Upon Hull, in the UK, government officials from Ospar's 15 member countries agreed on two more rapporteur countries to lead the process of dealing with a priority list of hazardous substances agreed at Sintra. The meeting also agreed mechanisms to include new substances on the priority list. Candidates are due to be proposed for inclusion next year.

The priority list of hazardous substances agreed at Sintra contained 15 chemicals, 11 of which have now been assigned to rapporteur countries. These will lead the process of studying patterns of emissions and proposing abatement measures. The remaining four substances were not allocated to lead countries during the meeting, prompting environmental groups to complain of insufficient commitment by governments.

The eleven substances now allocated are: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Germany and Belgium; polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), Norway; short chained chlorinated paraffins, Sweden; mercury and organic mercury compounds, UK; organic tin compounds, the Netherlands; nonylphenol/ethoxylates and related substances, Sweden; musk xylene, Switzerland; brominated flame retardants, Sweden; dibutylphthalate and diethylhexylphthalate (DBP and DEHP), Denmark and France; lead and organic lead compounds, Norway; and pentachlorophenol, Finland.

The four still not allocated are polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), hexachlorocyclohexane isomers (HCH, or lindane), and cadmium.

The meeting also made progress on measures to reduce radioactive substances, an Ospar official told ENDS Daily. France had committed itself to lead a seven-country group looking at action programmes, and parties agreed to "intensify their efforts" to achieve further progress, he said. The subject would be tackled in more depth at the next annual meeting, when an OECD report on the consequences of phasing out nuclear fuel reprocessing would be presented, he added.

Stricter guidelines on the disposal of offshore oil and gas installations were agreed. Aimed at preventing the use of rigs and other equipment as artificial reefs from becoming a loophole in the general ban on dumping at sea, the guidelines state that artificial reefs should be built on shore and should not contain whole installations. All parties supported them except Norway, which argued that it would be wasteful to send small installation components back to shore to be incorporated into reefs.

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