SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  15 September2011
Volume 12 Issue 9

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Global Environment Facility

SETAC Supports Global Environment Facility on Emerging Chemicals Management

By Michael C. Mozur, SETAC Global Executive Director

Several months ago SETAC launched a staff-led project to support the Global Environment Facility (GEF).  Scientific Affairs Manager, Bruce Vigon, led the effort, with contributions from Greg Schiefer, Barbara Albrecht (as a consultant), and myself.  The Global Environment Facility (GEF) unites 182 member governments — in partnership with international institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector — to address global environmental issues.1 An independent financial organization, the GEF provides grants to developing countries and countries with economies in transition for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants. Established in 1991, the GEF is today the largest funder of projects to improve the global environment, with more than 2,700 projects in more than 165 developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

The GEF partnership includes 10 agencies, including several other components of the United Nations Environment Programme.  These relationships, among others, involve the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) Secretariat overseeing chemicals and waste management conventions with whom SETAC has actively worked for the past four years.  The Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel provides technical and scientific advice on the GEF’s policies and projects. We hope to be able to interact more directly with this group in the future.

SETAC’s collaboration with the GEF provides both an opportunity to identify areas that will be of interest to the broad SETAC membership in emerging chemicals management issues, and how the GEF as an organization is relevant to the membership.  As a result of this project we also will be looking for other opportunities to interact with the GEF.  These other activities might involve our advisory groups or GUs, particularly in the developing world.

The project has two parts and to date we have completed the first portion. The first part was to conduct a global survey of emerging chemicals management issues in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. A total of 135 responses were received, with broadly-based geographic representation.  The survey consisted of a combination of quantitative, rating-type questions on 22 categories of emerging chemicals, mixtures, products, and residuals (termed ECMIs as a general designation) relating to environmental and human health impact potentials, climate change, intervention priority, social and economic consequences, and respondents overall level of concern with these materials as a management issue. 

This basic information was supplemented with additional quantitative information on the state of scientific knowledge, including whether research had been conducted in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, or transferred from developed countries. Another supportive set of questions addressed the geographic scale of potential consequences and mobility to transfer across national boundaries. In keeping with the scope of the GEF’s responsibilities and the coverage of multi-lateral agreements on chemicals management, the mobilization could occur through environmental transport mechanisms or through deliberate or accidental transport. The quantitative information was augmented with descriptive response type questions on applicable management interventions, coverage by existing national or regional multi-lateral agreements, and national applicable regulations and emerging management issues.

The key findings are too extensive to report in detail in this article, but an extract is provided to illustrate the breadth and depth of the information available to the project team and the effort taken by the respondents to provide input and especially commentary on the open-ended questions. 

Several trends emerged from the quantitative survey data:

  • Certain ECMIs were highly scored across all or almost all of the criteria, indicating a widespread understanding of the impacts, wide geographic distribution, high level of transboundary transport, intermediate to immediate need for intervention, and overall high level of concern. Heavy metals, PAHs, open burning, chemical mixtures, and sewage sludge fell into this grouping.
  • Figure:1 Intervention Priority RatingSome other ECMIs also came into the mix for social and economic impacts, and/or state of scientific knowledge. Arsenic, lead in paints, inorganic fertilizers, electronic waste, mine wastes and drainage, PPCPs, and endocrine disruption were rated high social and economic priorities. When thinking about the basis for such designations, it became clear that respondents had a good grasp of the implications of these ECMIs on these attributes and understood the connection between the environmental, human health and climate change criteria and the socio-economic aspects.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, certain ECMIs scored consistently low across all or virtually all criteria. The nanoparticles and engineered nanomaterials and chemical legacy of warfare categories were at the bottom of the list on most criteria. However, judging by the number of respondents indicating their lack of knowledge about these ECMIs, we believe that that better education would potentially affect how they were prioritized.  Organotins, phthalates, bisphenol A, alkylphenols, and marine debris were ECMIs that ended up near the bottom, although lack of knowledge may not be as significant in these cases.

In the responses to the qualitative criteria the trends and patterns were more geographically distinct or at least discernable differences could be seen.

Monitoring was an area where the response patterns varied by type of ECMI as well as region. Those ECMIs that have been known longer and have relatively simple (and less expensive) equipment used to analyze them (like heavy metals) have better (and more data-driven) pictures of exposure and impact patterns than those that are emergent and relatively harder to analyze (like endocrine disruptors).

Management options were mostly comments either in accord with practices in developed countries or expressing needs for actions. Nothing regionally specific emerged. One apparent trend was that respondents indicated regional or national multi-lateral agreements (and regulations as well) did exist in parts of Africa, South America, and a few other places, but were either poorly enforced or lacked an enforcement mechanism.

With respect to the more general or future-looking questions, respondents were fewer but provided some interesting insights.  On new or potential future ECMIs, of the six listed three — unintended uses of chemicals, chemicals used in construction (sealants, tars, etc.), chemicals used in mining, and disinfection by-products — were thought to be potentially important.  We felt the other two – sucralose and nanoparticles used in clean up of pollution — lacked understanding on the part of survey takers and therefore at least in part were discounted.

Interestingly, although there are thousands of chemicals in commerce and obviously not all are either covered by existing multi-lateral agreements or treaties, nor emerging issues in the sense defined for the survey, only two — fluoride in groundwater and pesticides — were identified as missing (at a country level).

Lastly, respondents did identify a few additional areas, like establishing an ECMI research database that could assist the GEF in its efforts.  Several more reiterated points made previously, like building chemical analytical capacity.

We think the key findings should have a direct connection to future SETAC science activities and workshops and entreat some member attention in that regard.  We would ask readers to contact Bruce Vigon, SETAC Science manager ( with further thoughts or ideas.

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1 Wikipedia, accessed July 2011.

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