Feature Article of Friday, 9 November 2012

Columnist: Daily Democrat

PCBs Are Silent Killers

Source: Emmanuel Opare Djan,Daily Democrat

The climate continues to suffer abuses through man- made activities with devastating impact for human beings leading to diseases, war, poverty, deaths, loss of lives and property.

Issues of the environment are issues of health, economic, security, social and development, which require concerted effort at local, national and international levels to adopt and mitigate the effects through education and training.
A new monster threatening the environment and human beings are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

Addressing the media during a press briefing to outline efforts made by the Ghana project on capacity building for the elimination of PBCs, Mr. John A Pwamang, Director, Chemical Control and Management Centre, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said steps are being taken by Ghana towards meeting its obligation under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

The Stockholm Convention is an international environmental treaty that aims to eliminate or restrict the production and use of (POPs) so as to protect human health and the environment from toxic substances.

He said POPs include pesticides such as DDT and industrial chemicals such as PCBs, unintentionally produced by-products such as Dioxins and Furans are highly toxic substances released into the environment through human activity with array of adverse effects, notably diseases and birth defects amongst humans and animals.

According to him, PCBs like all POPs have Persistent characteristics and remain intact in the environment for long periods of time and widely distributed throughout the environment through soil, water and air.
They accumulate in the fatty tissue of living organisms including humans, found at higher concentrations levels in the food chain and are toxic to both humans and wildlife.
He revealed that PCBs can damage the skin and cause internal injuries such as liver damage and also prolonged contact with the skin can cause skin lesions/rash. Boiling or burning of PCBs produces toxic fumes that may be injurious to health if inhaled.
PCBs can also cause long lasting contamination of soil and water supplies because they are non-biodegradable in nature. PCBs may also cause cancer in humans.
PCBs have been employed in a multitude of applications including dielectric fluids in transformers and capacitors, in heat transfer and hydraulic systems, and as solvent in ink and carbonless copy paper.
Other uses of PCBs include the formulation of lubricating oils, as plasticizers in paints, in adhesives, in flame-retardants and in plastics. The uses of PCBs can be classified as closed, partially closed and open systems.
Although there is currently no specific legislation that formally prohibits imports of PCBs and PCB-containing equipment, such imports are clearly in contravention of the Stockholm Convention.
While the internal practices of the main holders of PCBs have been improved, the presence of PCBs in the recent inventory shows that there is still a lot to be done to prevent importation of PCBs into Ghana.
The development of legislation on PCBs is expected to check this gap and ensure that all transformers and dielectric fluids imported into the country go through the necessary clearance checks by the EPA and the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority.
As part of this capacity building project, the relevant institutions have been trained on the use of the L-2000 PCB analyzers and as part of today’s programe, the equipment will be formally handed over to the institutions to enable them undertake the required controls.
All these coupled with the development of a PCB management plan would help ensure that Ghana successfully eliminates PCBs and meets its obligations under the Stockholm Convention.
“We take this opportunity to underscore the good cooperation we have had with the key stakeholders in this project and look forward to continued collaboration till the end of the project in 2013.”
“We call on the press to help us create awareness in the general public on the adverse health and environmental effects of PCBs and solicit their cooperation in eliminating PCBs from Ghana,” he said.
Mr. Jonathan Krueger, Manager, Chemical and Waste Management Programme of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, Geneva, Switzerland, elucidated that the project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is addressing the problems of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in Ghana.
PCBs, according to him, belongs to a class of compounds known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) these he said are some of the most dangerous compounds ever made by humans to date and they are a global concern.
“PCBs like all POPs have contributed to our general well-being like other chemicals. However, exposure to them can also cause serious health and environmental problems because they are persistent and remain intact in the environment for long periods of time.”
Given the global nature of the PCBs, the 2001 Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) was created to be a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from highly dangerous, long-lasting chemicals by restricting and ultimately eliminating their production, use, trade, release and storage.
“The Convention concerns 22 substances, including PCBs and involves 178 countries around the world including Ghana.
In Ghana PCBs are mainly found in capacitors and transformers.
Since PCBs can cause adverse effects to both human health and the environment and they also can move from one place to another, it calls for action on the part of Ghana EPA.”
Therefore given these realities, this project is important because it contributes to keeping Ghana safe from PCBs and also contributes to honoring Ghana’s commitment to its obligations under the Stockholm Convention, contributing to the important overall global agenda of making the world free of PCBs.
So these national efforts here in Ghana are significant and provide an important contribution to the global reduction of the PCB menace, and assisting to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Ghana, in particular MDG goal #7 of ensuring environmental sustainability.
As UNITAR, OUR ROLE in this project is to assist in strengthening the capacities and capabilities of government officials and national stakeholders in the sound management of PCBs. More specifically by providing technical expertise and assisting Ghana EPA in the following areas;
a. Locating where these PCBs are
b. Managing all identified stocks and sources
c. Disposing all the identified stocks, and
d. Developing capacity to manage any future PCBs problems that may arise.
He expressed gratitude to the Ghana EPA, the UN colleagues at UNDP, the GEF, members of the steering Committee and the Stakeholders and urged that the information that has been provided would be passed on to the good people of Ghana about what is being done on the national PCB menace.