Chemicals in Products (CiPs)

Chemicals in Products (CiPs)

Chemicals in Products (CiPs)

Chemicals make our modern life possible. They are the answer to the various requirements of our society. Only through the invention of certain chemical syntheses, the production of many different goods has been achieved. Thus, we take many things for granted such as toothpaste, mobile phones, solar cells or energy-saving light bulbs, which would not be possible without the use of chemicals.

For instance, chlorine is used to disinfect drinking water. Fertilizers containing phosphate enhance crop yields, therefore contributing to food security. Plastics are an essential part of many consumable goods. Without the on-going improvement of their syntheses, the production of pharmaceuticals would be distinctly less efficient or not even possible. In the textile industry, many chemicals are used for staining clothes or to enhance their function. On the contrary, some of these chemicals pose potential threats to human health and the environment. Since the list of Chemicals in Products (CiPs) is diverse and difficult to oversee, only some examples are given here:

  • Children's toys often contain phthalates which make vinyl more transparent, more flexible and thus more durable;
  • Some household or cleaning products contain chemicals like alkylophenols, dyes and tetrachloroethylene. Most of the chemicals imposing negative health impacts can be categorized into neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors and carcinogens;
  • Cosmetic and hygienic products such as toothpaste, shampoo, perfume and nail polish can also contain a variety of chemicals. Triclosan, SLS, DEA and Acetone are only some examples;
  • Textiles may contain mutagenic substances such as aminoazo dyes. Due to their intercalating attributes, they also react with DNA and are therefore carcinogenic. Within outdoor clothing, nanomaterials can be found quite often. Their useful characteristics are very diverse like being antimicrobial, anticorrosive, possessing good thermal conductivity, and/or providing insulation. Currently, there may not be any known risks to human health with these materials, but environmental risks can be expected as the use of these materials increase;
  • Another risk to human health may be caused by materials which are used for household construction: In some countries, paints still contain lead. Asbestos is a well-known hazardous substance, but the appropriate disposal of materials containing asbestos is still a challenge in many countries.

Persistant Organic Pollutants (POPs)

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are organic chemical substances that possess a particular combination of physical and chemical properties, including:

  • Persistence in the environment for long periods of time;
  • Capability for long range transport;
  • Bioaccumulation and concentration within the food chain;
  • Toxicity to humans and wildlife.

Since POPs pose significant threats to human health and the environment, on 22 May 2001, the world’s governments adopted an international treaty - the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants - which aimed at restricting and ultimately eliminating their production, use, release and storage.

At the moment, 23 chlorinated, brominated and fluorinated POPs are listed in the Stockholm Convention. The chlorinated POPs are mostly pesticides (e.g. DDT and Endosulfan) and unintentional produced POPs (e.g. Dioxins) formed in the production of organochlorine compounds and in thermal processes. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were used in industrial applications such as transformers, capacitors and hydraulic fluids and in open applications such as sealants, paints and cutting oils.

The listed brominated POPs (PBDEs, HBB, HBCD) are flame retardants used in a wide range of consumer goods including electronics, vehicles, textiles, furniture, mattresses, and in some countries with specific flammability standards such as the United States or the United Kingdom. Furthermore, highly flammable insulation foams in construction, such as polystyrene or polyurethane, are also often flame retarded.

The listed fluorinated POPs are  PFOS and PFOS-related chemicals, which are/were used in consumer goods such as outdoor textiles, carpets, stain resistant furniture or grease paper (backing paper, muffin cups, fast food wrapping). Perfluoroctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and related chemicals were/are also used in a wide range of industrial processes (e.g. chromium plating, photo resist and oil drilling), used as insecticides, and used in specific fire-fighting foams. For several applications, PFOS has been substituted with shorter chain per- or polyfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS).

A screening of the approximately 100,000 chemicals in databases has revealed that several hundred POPs or POP-like chemicals are currently in use belonging mainly to organohalogen compound groups. While the Stockholm Convention has made considerable progresses (e.g. awareness, capacity building, National Implementations Plans), the large amount of POPs-like chemicals still in use and the large POPs stockpiles and legacy wastes signify that a more integrated approach for global POPs management is needed. The Convention process on "POPs free" and alternatives to POPs is one important approach to move to greener, more sustainable chemicals in future.

Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS)

Perfluoroctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) is a fully fluorinated anion that is commonly used as a salt, incorporated into a molecule, or incorporated into larger polymers. PFOS is very persistent and has substantial bio-accumulating and bio-magnifying properties, particularly in humans. PFOS does not follow the classic pattern of other persistent organic pollutants (POPs) by partitioning into fatty tissues. Instead, PFOS binds to proteins within the blood and liver. It has the capacity to undergo long-range transport and also fulfils the toxicity criteria under the Stockholm Convention.

Therefore, PFOS, its salts and Perfluoroctane sulfonyl fluoride (PFOSF) have been listed in the Stockholm Convention in 2009 to restrict the use and production of PFOS and its related substances. The term "PFOS-related substances" is used for all substances that contain one or more PFOS groups (defined as C8F17SO2) which can be or are assumed to be degraded to PFOS in the environment over time. The most comprehensive list of PFOS related substances (OECD, 2007) has been compiled within the work of the OECD on PFOS.   

PFOS and related substances have been listed in Annex B (restriction) under the Convention with a range of acceptable purposes and specific exemptions. In this frame PFOS is still produced and used in several countries at a total volume of approximately 200 tonnes per year, which is mainly produced in China. PFOS-related substances have been manufactured for more than 50 years at a total volume of approximately 96,000 t . Due to the extensive historical use and release of PFOS, the PFOS inventory guidance from the Stockholm Convention and POP Reviewing Committee report on Recommendations on risk reduction for PFOS, its salts and PFOSF stress its relevance of PFOS contaminated sites.

Their unique physical properties, being both fat and water repelling, have made them popular for several products. They were mainly used for surface treatment and are commonly found in lubricated products, stain-resistant fabrics and all-weather clothing. Currently, the intentional use of PFOS mainly includes: metal plating, fire-fighting foam, insecticide use and oil drilling among other minor uses.

With the goal of reducing and ultimately eliminating the production and use of these chemicals, the Stockholm Convention encourages Parties using PFOS and related substances to take action in phasing out its uses. The POPs Review Committee came to support the Parties' actions in switching to alternatives and prepared the "Revised draft guidance on alternatives to perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, its salts, perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride and their related chemicals." This document concludes that fluorinated or non-fluorinated alternatives exist for nearly all current uses of PFOS, and that they will be normally less hazardous.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) are a class of industrial organic chemicals listed in the Stockholm Convention as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). PCBs are one of the most common and widely dispersed POPs. They can cause serious health problems (e.g. carcinogenicity, reproductive impairment and immune system disruption) as well as environmental effects (e.g. soil and water contamination, bio-accumulation throughout food webs, and loss of biological diversity.

PCBs have a low electrical conductivity, a high resistance to thermal breakdown, and a high resistance to oxidants and other chemicals. Consequently, since 1930, PCBs were used in a variety of closed industrial applications; mainly as dielectric fluids in capacitors and transformers and in open applications such as paints, sealants, cutting oils, paper, and textiles. It is estimated that the total PCB production was approximately 1.3 million tonnes, of which 48% were used for transformer oil; about 21% for capacitors; 10% for other 'nominally closed' systems such as heat transfer systems, hydraulic systems, and particularly in mining equipment; and approximately 21% for open uses [4]. PCBs were produced for more than fifty years until the 1980's and have been exported as chemicals and in products to virtually any country in the world.

The Stockholm Convention has set ambitious goals for phasing out the use of any equipment containing PCBs by 2025, and for reaching a complete treatment and elimination of PCBs by 2028. Current PCB inventory activities under the Stockholm Convention focus mainly on closed applications such as transformers and capacitors containing PCBs. The assessment and management of PCBs in open applications is also important because of indoor exposure and of exposure to lifestock. Switzerland is a good example for environmentally sound management (ESM) of PCBs from open to closed applications.

Developing countries and countries exhibiting transitioning economies are facing large challenges at reaching environmentally sound management (ESM) for PCBs. These countries normally lack destruction capacity, have limited resources, and frequently have poor inventories and analytical capacities. Therefore, a more integrated approach on PCB/POPs management is needed. In order to help support the Parties in the Convention to meet obligations for achieving the environmentally sound management of PCBs, the PCBs Elimination Network (PEN) was established. PEN represents a collaborative framework to aid in promoting and facilitating information exchange about PCBs to improve coordination and cooperation for the ESM of PCBs. Guidance materials for cataloguing and managing PCBs have been compiled on the Stockholm Convention website.

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