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- A case study from Cameroon: When chemicals escape control
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Article related to: PIC
A case study from Cameroon: When chemicals escape control
One of the primary aims of the Rotterdam Convention is to promote shared responsibility and cooperation in the international trade of hazardous chemicals. As a global treaty, it aims to protect human health and the environment by advising emerging nations on safe ways to store, transport, use and dispose of hazardous chemicals. We spoke with Mr Albun William Banye Lemnyuy from Cameroon’s Ministry of Environment, Protection of Nature and Sustainable Development about how the Convention affects the import of hazardous chemicals into his country.
Under the Rotterdam Convention, designated national authorities of importing Parties need to give prior informed consent (PIC) before any exports of banned or severely restricted chemicals from the exporting country can take place.
Importing and exporting Parties are also required to exchange information with each other, and to notify the Rotterdam Convention’s secretariat when action is taken to ban or severely restrict a chemical in their countries.
These obligations aim to protect countries from unwanted imports of hazardous chemicals.
How imports are controlled in Cameroon
Each country signed up to the Rotterdam Convention has a designated national authority that receives and handles export notifications. In Cameroon, which ratified the Convention on 20 May 2002, Mr Lemnyuy is currently the focal point for this work.
“My role is to check and respond to any export notifications I receive by email and to decide whether to give consent or to block the import,” Mr Lemnyuy explains.
Albun William Banye Lemnyuy.
"Parties who have signed the Convention and are sending us chemicals that are banned or severely restricted should be notifying us in the same way as ECHA and the EU. However, we rarely
These notifications allow Mr Lemnyuy to find more information about the companies wanting to import such hazardous chemicals. “I first look to see that the companies actually exist and whether they want to use the substances in Cameroon themselves or to resell them. If they’re reselling, we also want to know to whom, so that the company purchasing the chemical can also be checked,” he says. The importing companies must provide this information, or the import will be refused.
Once this information is verified, the capacity to handle the substance safely is also checked. “Companies requesting to import such chemicals need to have the technical knowhow to handle them safely. It is important for protecting Cameroon’s ecology and for safeguarding human health and the environment, so we ask whether the companies have qualified staff and the right equipment in place to use the substance safely and appropriately. If we don’t get the right information or the company can’t guarantee the safe use of the chemical, we refuse the import,” Mr Lemnyuy tells.
Why notifications are important
Under the Rotterdam Convention, export notifications have to fulfil specific information requirements. Exporters of hazardous chemicals need to use proper labelling, include directions on how to safely handle the substances, and inform the importer of any known restrictions or bans.
In the EU, the PIC Regulation goes a step further, making export notifications mandatory for EU-based exporters. This is not the case for exports from other parts of the world, Mr Lemnyuy points out.
“Parties who have signed the Convention and are sending us chemicals that are banned or severely restricted should be notifying us in the same way as ECHA and the EU. However, we rarely receive notifications from anywhere but the EU,” Mr Lemnyuy explains.
Without the notifications, it is impossible for authorities in the importing country to track such imports.
“We know full well that there are huge amounts of chemicals coming to our country from places like Asia, and we believe that many of these chemicals are highly hazardous, but we have no mechanism to monitor such imports when we are not notified. All imports are, of course, subject to customs clearance, but since this is not comprehensive, we struggle to track them and they escape our control,” he tells.
This is a major source of concern for Mr Lemnyuy. Users do not always fully understand the toxicity of the imported chemicals, and sometimes they do not even receive proper instructions from the exporter on safe use. “As a consequence, the number of poisonings and chemical dumping incidents has escalated in Cameroon,” he states. Against this backdrop, Mr Lemnyuy is firm in his belief that more could be done.
One way of achieving greater control over imports would be to increase the number of chemicals listed in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention.
Annex III lists pesticides and industrial chemicals that are banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons by at least two Parties to the Convention located in different regions. The annex can only be amended if the Conference of the Parties unanimously agrees that the hazardous chemical should be subject to the PIC procedure. In Mr Lemnyuy’s opinion, the Rotterdam Convention secretariat should adopt a stronger role in this process.
“We’ve witnessed a lot of resistance to chemicals being added to Annex III. Companies may be commercially invested and see such chemicals as blacklisted. However, if the hazardous chemicals are not included in the annex, we are less likely to receive export notifications, and we can’t track the chemicals coming in to our country due to limited budget and infrastructure,” he concludes.
The Rotterdam Convention is implemented in the EU through the PIC Regulation concerning the export and import of hazardous chemicals. The PIC Regulation goes beyond the provisions of the Rotterdam Convention in a number of ways:
This is because EU-based exporters are obliged to notify exports of chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted in the EU.
Did you know?
ECHA is the main actor responsible for implementing the PIC Regulation. The Agency processes and sends the export notifications submitted by EU-based companies to the importing countries outside the EU, and keeps a database of the notifications and explicit consents given by these countries. ECHA also provides technical, scientific and administrative assistance to EU industry, the designated national authorities of EU and third countries, and the European Commission.
In 2018, ECHA sent 8 403 export notifications on behalf of the EU. 25 of these were sent to Cameroon.
Text by Paul Trouth
Published on: 21 February 2019
Top image: © Pixabay/Thomas_G
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