Highlights and images for 8 September 2020

With two industrial chemicals on its pared-down agenda, the Chemical Review Committee to the Rotterdam Convention opened its 16th meeting in a virtual setting on Tuesday. Technical experts from around the world gathered online with the aim of keeping the Committee’s work on track despite the widespread disruption created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chemical Review Committee is responsible for reviewing chemicals and pesticide formulations to determine whether they meet the criteria for listing in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention. If parties from two different regions take regulatory action that meet the criteria, the Chemical Review Committee may recommend that the substance be subjected to the Convention’s “prior informed consent” procedure.

During this meeting, the Committee will review a newly-submitted notification of final regulatory action on perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), its salts and PFOA-related compounds. A key challenge will be determining how these substances should be listed in the Rotterdam Convention. As one Committee member noted, there are “hundreds of thousands” of versions of PFOA and PFOA-related compounds, not all of which are produced or used. Thus, the Committee must identify and recommend a method for listing these and similarly complex chemicals in a way that is both functional and accurate. While the Committee’s discussions this week will focus on PFOA, its recommendations could set a precedent for future listings of other industrial chemicals both within the Rotterdam Convention and other related conventions (such as the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants).

The Chemical Review Committee will also consider the draft decision guidance document on decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE), a flame retardant that is also listed under the Stockholm Convention. The Conference of the Parties is scheduled to consider whether to list this industrial chemical at its tenth meeting, currently scheduled for July 2021. The Committee must complete its work on decaBDE at this meeting in order for the Conference of the Parties to include this chemical on its agenda.

In their opening remarks on Tuesday, both Rémi Nono Womdim, Executive Secretary of the Rotterdam Convention-FAO, and Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, underscored the global impact of the Committee’s work. By the conclusion of Tuesday’s session, participants had made substantial progress in their discussions of PFOA and agreed to hash out remaining details later in the week in a small informal group. This progress suggests the challenges of collaborating while physically distant from one another will not impede the important work of the Committee.