Initiatives to Phase out Priority Chemicals
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Credit: G.I. Bernard/OSP/OkapiaMarine wildlife is threatened by industrial toxic chemicals, agricultural pesticides from land based sources and the atmosphere, oil and chemicals from offshore industries and shipping. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals are of particular concern as marine wildlife are exhibiting features associated with these anthropogenic chemicals which can mimic or interfere with the body‘s hormones. Grave distress signals from North-East Atlantic wildlife have been reported such as reproductive failure and impairment of immune function in seals linked to elevated PCB levels. Tributyltin (TBT) released from antifouling paints on ships hulls is known to cause infertility in whelks and growth abnormalities in oysters. Synthetic chemical pollutants from detergents, such as nonylphenols, are suspected to mimic oestrogenic hormones and affect the ability of fish populations to reproduce normally. Considerable levels of brominated flame retardants used in plastics, coatings, electronic equipment and building material have been found in sperm whales being part of the deep sea food chain. Critical levels of phthalates used as plasticisers have been observed in coastal and estuarine sediments (e.g. Wadden Sea mud flats).

In Sintra, Portugal (1998) the OSPAR Ministerial Meeting agreed to a Hazardous Substances Strategy that could go a long way towards the protection of the North-East Atlantic marine environment against hazardous substances. Environment Ministers of 15 European governments and the Member of the European Commission agreed to "prevent pollution of the maritime area by continuously reducing discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances (that is, substances which are toxic, persistent and liable to bioaccumulate or which give rise to an equivalent level of concern), with the ultimate aim of achieving concentrations in the environment near background values for naturally occurring substances and close to zero for man-made synthetic substances, ... [to] make every endeavour to move towards the target of cessation of discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances by the year 2020 ... [and to] emphasise the importance of the precautionary principle in this work" (Sintra Statement).

The proposed strategy was expected to lead to the production of programmes and measures by 2003 for the control of discharges, emissions and losses of substances on the OSPAR List of Chemicals for Priority Action and to develop a selection regime to prioritise additional substances on the basis of their persistence, toxicity, ability to bioaccumulate and endocrine disrupting nature. The above followed previous decisions made at the Esbjerg North Sea Ministerial Declaration (1995) and added to the OSPAR Ministerial Declaration (1992).

In 2003, Environment Ministers from OSPAR countries convened again in Bremen, Germany, underlining their expectations towards the EU Chemicals Policy Reform in the Bremen Statement , reviewing the Strategy and further amending the priority list. While the selection and prioritisation of hazardous substances had made considerable progress and background documents for most of the priority chemicals were adopted or underway, outlining the measures to eliminate these chemicals from the marine environment, the legally binding regulation for toxic marine pollutants still seemed to be at stake.

Credit: Wildlife/ D. PerrineWWF’s project is to keep the momentum in this process by producing a scientific and layman’s report to illustrate the impacts of key hazardous substances on NE Atlantic marine wildlife with particular reference to endocrine disrupting chemicals and other relevant toxic chemicals. The aim being to increase public awareness of these issues, hence highlighting the need and means to rapidly reduce inputs of hazardous substances into the North-East Atlantic marine environment with a view to achieve the OSPAR Objective and Target.

Reference is made to the OSPAR List of Chemicals for Priority Action which inter alia comprises the following chemicals: 4-tert-butyltoluene, brominated flame retardants (such as PBDE), certain bromobenzenes, cadmium, certain chloronaphthalenes, certain phthalates – dibutylphthalate (DBP) and diethylhexylphthalate (DEHP), dicofol, dodecylphenol, endosulphan, flucythrinate, hexachlorocyclohexane isomers (HCH), hexachlorocyclopentadiene, heptachloronorbornene, hexamethyldiksiloxane (HMDS), isodrin, lead and organic lead compounds, mercury and organic mercury compounds, methoxychlor, musk xylene, nonylphenol/ethoxylates (NP/NPEs) and related substances, octylphenol, organic tin compounds (such as TBT), pentachloroanisole, pentachlorophenol (PCP), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), short chained chlorinated paraffins (SCCP), tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBA), tetrasul, certain trichlorobenzenes, triphenylphosphine.

An overview of all chemicals that are subject to the 2020 target due to their intrinsic properties is at the OSPAR List of Substances of Possible Concern (2002), including factsheets about the individual compound or group.

Project Consultant: Andreas Ahrens, Ökopol Institute for Environmental Strategies, Hamburg
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