Interview with Kei Ohno Woodall

Interview between Kei Ohno Woodall, Programme Officer, BRS Secretariat, and Charlie Avis, BRS Public Information Officer.

CA: Good morning, Kei and thanks in advance for telling us why POPRC - the Stockholm Convention’s scientific subsidiary body – is important, and what it will achieve at its next meeting in Rome on 19 – 23 October. First of all, what actually is POPRC?

KOW: Thanks Charlie, well POPRC is short for the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee, and is made up of 31 government-designated experts in chemical assessment or management. The Committee reviews a chemical proposed by a Party for listing in Annexes A, B, and/or C to the Stockholm Convention. This is the eleventh meeting, and the Committee has so far reviewed 17 chemicals, of which 14 have been listed in Annexes to the Stockholm Convention. There will be one more new chemical to start the review process at POPRC-11.

CA: Great. So in a nutshell, what is the next meeting set out to achieve?

KOW: The Committee will consider four chemicals proposed for listing: decabromodiphenyl ether (commercial mixture, c-decaBDE), dicofol, short-chained chlorinated paraffins and pentadecafluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), its salts and PFOA-related compounds.

For decabromodiphenyl ether, the Committee will review the risk management evaluation document, which is at the last stage of the review process, and recommend whether the chemical should be considered by the Conference of the Parties for listing. The recommendation, if adopted, will be considered at the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention to be held in April 2017.

The proposal for listing PFOA, its salts and PFOA-related compounds was submitted by the European Union and the Committee will review it for the first time at this meeting. Dicofol and short-chained chlorinated paraffins have been in the review process since 2013 and 2006, respectively. The Committee will consider adopting the risk profiles on those chemicals and decides whether the chemicals are persistent organic pollutants.

CA: So what are the actual steps for bringing a POP into the Annexes of the Stockholm Convention?

KOW: A proposal for listing a chemical can be submitted by any Party to the Stockholm Convention. The proposal will be first verified by the Secretariat whether it contains the information specified in Annex D (chemical identity, persistence, bio-accumulation, potential for long-range environmental transport, adverse effects, etc.). Then the Committee examines the proposal and applies the screening criteria in Annex D. Of the chemicals to be considered at POPRC-11, PFOA, its salts and PFOA-related compounds are at this stage of the review process. If the Committee is satisfied that the screening criteria have been fulfilled, then the proposal proceeds to the second stage.

The second stage is to decide whether the chemical is likely as a result of its long-range environmental transport to lead to significant adverse human health and/or environmental effects such that global action is warranted. For this purpose, a risk profile is developed based on the information specified in Annex E (production, use, releases, hazard assessment, environmental fate, monitoring data, exposure, etc.). Dicofol and short-chained chlorinated paraffins are at this stage of the review process.

The third stage is to prepare a risk management evaluation that includes an analysis of possible control measures for the chemical in accordance with Annex F (efficacy and efficiency of possible control measures, alternatives, positive and negative impacts on society of implementing possible control measures, waste disposal implications, etc.). Decabromodiphenyl ether is at this stage of the review process.

Based on the risk profile and the risk management evaluation developed for the chemical, the Committee recommends whether the chemical should be considered by the Conference of the Parties for listing in Annexes A, B and/or C. Based on the recommendation, the Conference of the Parties takes the decision on listing of the chemical.

CA: How important is the role and contribution of civil society in POPRC work?

KOW: Observers are mentioned several times in the review process provided in Article 8. For example, when the Committee decides that the screening criteria have been fulfilled, it makes the proposal and the evaluation of the Committee available to all Parties and observers and invites them to submit the information specified in Annex E to prepare a draft risk profile. The Committee makes the draft risk profile available to all Parties and observers, collect technical comments from them and, taking those comments into account, complete the risk profile. The information provided by Parties and observers, including civil society, as well as comments on the draft documents are extremely important for the Committee to make sound decisions. The meetings of the Committee are open to observers. Civil society has been participating very actively in the meetings and during the intersessional period.

CA: One last question please. From Science to Action: what does that mean for you, and what does it mean for the Convention/s?

KOW: Good question! Well firstly, the decision on “From Science to Action” was taken at the last Triple COPs in May 2015. The conferences of the parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions recognized the importance of further strengthening the science-policy interface for the effectiveness of the conventions and the need for scientific underpinning for decision-making in the sound management of chemicals and wastes at the national and regional levels.

Information gathering is an important step in a decision-making process. In the scientific world, new data and knowledge on environmental and health risks of hazardous chemicals and wastes are being accumulated on a daily basis. On another front, policy makers are required to take decisions related to the implementation of the conventions based on the information made available to them. This is why it is important to strengthen the science-policy interface. The gaps in access to scientific information in particular in developing countries and countries with economies in transition should also be addressed. The information required at the Annex E stage, for example, is highly technical and scientific. One of the objectives of the activities for “From Science to Action” is to support Parties and observers to effectively collect such information and provide them to the Committee.

I would also like to highlight that, as mentioned in Article 1 of the Convention, the Stockholm Convention is mindful of the precautionary approach. This means that more caution is required when information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate, and that the lack of adequate scientific information should not be used as a reason for postponing or failing to take action. According to Article 8 of the Convention, the Conference of the Parties, “taking due account of the recommendations of the Committee, including any scientific uncertainty, shall decide, in a precautionary manner, whether to list the chemical, and specify its related control measures, in Annexes A, B and/or C”. Socio-economic consideration undertaken at the Annex F stage includes very important items such as health, including public, environmental and occupational health, agriculture, including aquaculture and forestry, biodiversity, economic aspects, movement towards sustainable development and social costs.

CA: Thank you very much for your time and good luck with the important work in Rome!

KOW: Thank you, Charlie, we hope for a very successful meeting.