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UN Expert Meeting Charts the Way Forward on Hazardous Chemicals in Electronic Products
Historic meeting addresses entire lifecycle of electronics
SAN JOSE, CA - April 13 - For the first time, more than 100 experts from around the world gathered in Vienna, Austria to make recommendations for a UN process on reducing and eliminating hazardous chemicals in the design, manufacturing, and end of life stages of electronic products. Concerns over toxic exposures during manufacturing, use, and recycling of electronic products provoked governments, the private sector, and public interest NGOs from around the world to call for the meeting at a global conference in 2009.
“Expectations were high for this meeting,” said Joe DiGangi, IPEN, “and the results from the Vienna workshop provide a comprehensive roadmap that now need to be converted into actions.”
Delegates developed key recommendations including: eliminating chemical hazards during design; phasing-out currently used hazardous substances; improving information transparency and flow; ensuring equal protection of workers, communities, and consumers; preventing export of hazardous electronic wastes from developed to developing countries; controlling export and import of near-end-of-life equipment; and taking the special needs of Small Island Developing States into account.
More than 160 governments had passed resolutions on the workshop topics at regional meetings of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), with recommendations on green design, information transparency, protection of worker and community health, extended producer responsibility, addressing contaminated sites, and capacity building among others.
Recognizing that many challenges need to be resolved through improved design of new products, recommendations were made on eliminating chemicals of concern, full ingredient disclosure, identifying and implementing substitution strategies, green procurement and extended producer responsibility.
The Korean Institute of Labor Safety and Health (Republic of Korea) and the International Labour Organization (Switzerland) presented information on how electronics manufacturing workers and nearby communities are currently being exposed to hazardous chemicals, the types of chemicals causing concern, recognition of adverse effects, controlling exposure, and how the SAICM agreement needs to address these issues.
“Protecting human health during production is more than posters and data sheets,” said Amanda Hawes of Worksafe, based in Oakland, CA. “These new recommendations should begin a move toward a new manufacturing paradigm of true prevention and precaution which needs to be urgently implemented by large companies as well as subcontractors. We need a new model which truly protects workers and community residents.” Additional workshop recommendations included promoting pollution prevention (including elimination of hazardous chemical use) and improving process designs; ensuring that subcontractors protect workers and surrounding communities; development of pollution reporting; and intensifying health monitoring for workers and residents.
Presenters on e-Waste included the Institute for Global Strategies (Japan), Shantou University Medical College (China), and the Basel Action Network (USA). Issues included the hazardous content of electronic waste, toxic exposures from electronic waste recycling in both developing and developed countries from metals and flame retardants, hazards of incineration and landfilling, the role of obsolescence and consumption in waste production, externalized cost, dumping of wastes from developed countries in developing countries, and the Basel Ban amendment among others.
“More than a decade of dumping toxic e-waste needs to stop,” said Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network in Seattle, WA. “The Vienna recommendations provide a package of solutions including enforcement against illegal trafficking in e-waste, clean-up of damage done, and free take back programs available globally to consumers.”
The international workshop on hazardous substances within the life cycle of electronic and electrical products was organized by the Secretariats to the Basel and Stockholm Conventions and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) which hosted the meeting in Vienna. The workshop is part of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), a global strategy and policy framework to establish sound management of hazardous chemicals and wastes by 2020. Delegates included more than 30 government representatives from both manufacturing countries and countries affected by electronic wastes along with representatives from the private sector and public interest NGOs. The Workshop recommendations will be provided for consideration in SAICM regional meetings, a working group meeting in August, and at the 3rd International Conference on Chemicals Management in 2012.
The UN organizers invited key resource people to begin the meeting with presentations to inform delegates of current issues. Soon, presentations as well as the recommendations should be posted here: http://www.basel.int/meetings/wrks-eew-unido/index.html