Mar 25, 2023

Plastics additives one focus in Paris treaty talks

Paris — Health concerns around additives in plastics are taking an elevated role at the plastics treaty talks, with scientists joining the negotiations to debate how the agreement should handle complex chemical heath questions.

A scientist representing the International Associations of Chemical Associations said it has launched new initiatives to gather and share information in response to concerns raised in November at the first treaty negotiating session.

Other groups are urging diplomats in Paris, in what is the second of five negotiating sessions for the treaty, to require more disclosure of the chemicals used in plastics when they start drafting detailed text for the agreement in coming months.

At a May 29 forum on the sidelines of the official talks, a representative from the Minderoo Foundation pointed to its report from March calling for tougher benchmarks for health testing of chemicals in plastics, similar to how the pharmaceutical industry is regulated.

The plastics industry said it was working to share more information and develop risk assessment frameworks.

John Norman, senior director of regulatory and scientific affairs with the American Chemistry Council, told the forum that industry wants to collaborate and listen to concerns.

"The concerns raised by other stakeholders did not fall on deaf ears," Norman said. "We heard them and commissioned efforts to provide greater transparency on plastic additives."

He told the forum that ACC is building capacity in data availability for chemical additives and developing a risk-assessment framework.

"The chemicals and plastics industry is building a centralized database that will serve as a single source of information on chemical additives used in commerce," Norman said, adding that the risk assessment framework "will help governments and scientists to evaluate the risk of additives and plastics to human health and the environment."

He said the two new tools together will help governments identify priority chemicals and provide information to workers and the public.

The forum also reviewed a report from the United Nations Environment Programme, released a few weeks before the Paris talks, that said of the 13,000 chemicals used generally in plastics, about 3,000 have one or more "hazardous properties of concern."

Some groups said the plastics treaty has a chance to break new ground in regulation.

The International Pollutants Elimination Network presented a list of chemicals it said could be more tightly regulated or eliminated under the plastic treaty, including per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, phthalates, brominated flame retardants and benzotriazole UV-stabilizers.

Therese Karlsson, a science and technical adviser at IPEN, said there are gaps in international regulatory systems and said the plastics treaty has a chance to go further than other frameworks, like the U.N.'s Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants.

"To address these gaps the plastics treaty needs to go beyond the criteria of the Stockholm convention," she said.

A representative of the Swedish Society of Nature Conservation the Health, Environment and Justice Support, and others called for a global system for transparency and traceability of the chemicals used in plastics.

"The future plastic treaty has a unique opportunity to become the first multilateral agreement with legally binding and globally harmonized requirements for transparency of information on chemicals and polymers in plastic materials," the groups said in a written statement summarizing their presentation.

Oleg Speranskaya, co-director of HEJ-Support, suggested there's support among some countries.

She pointed to an official ministerial statement from the High Ambition Coalition, a group of 55 countries in the plastics treaty talks, that called for binding elements in the agreement on reporting and transparency on chemical and product composition.

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