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Discover sustainable alternatives to toxic chemicals

Substitution of hazardous chemicals is a fundamental measure to reduce risks to environment, workers, consumers and public health. We attended the Halogenated Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in short Dioxin Conference, held on 31st August to 5th September 2014 in Madrid (Spain), to draw delegates´attention to alternative non-toxic chemicals in the market.
Published on Sep 16, 2014

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 Discover sustainable alternatives to toxic chemicals

From left to right Roland Weber (POPs consultant), Manfred Santen (Greenpece Germany), Stefan Brenzel (SUBSPORT), Arlene Blum (Univ. of California, Berkeley), Frederic Gallo (SCP/RAC), Martin Scheringer (ETH, Zurich), Carmela Centeno (UNIDO, Vienna), Simona Yi-Balan (Green Science Policy Institute), Tatjana Hema (MEDPOL, UNEP), Sara Perez (ISTAS)

The 34th edition of the Dioxin Conference has successfully brought together a unique multidisciplinary group of delegates from academia, business and government with a common interest in Halogenated Persistent Organic Pollutants. The conference, held in on 31st August to 5th September 2014, in Madrid (Spain) addressed effectively scientific discussion of the state-of-the-art in POPs and related compounds.

Frederic Gallo, senior expert at the Regional Activity Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production (RAC/SCP) and Roland Weber, our SWITCH-Med associated expert co-chaired the session titled ¨Sustainable production and use¨ on Monday 1st September. The first presentation was given by Carmela Centeno (United Nation Industrial Development Organisation) who tackled the issue of greening industries through sustainable production and use, followed by Sara Pérez (Instituto  Sindical de Trabajo Ambiente y Salud, Spain) who introduced SUBSPORT, the substitution support portal. SUBSPORT is a free-of-charge, multilingual platform for information exchange on alternative substances and technologies, as well as tools and guidance for substance evaluation and substitution management.

Dioxin Conference Banner.pngJun Huang from the Stockholm Convention Regional Center Asia and the Pacific presented the preliminary study on the environmental friendliness of PFOS substitutes for key application in China. During his presentation he summarised: ¨It is actually very difficult to assess to what extend the alternatives to POPs are really alternatives. There is a need for holistic approach¨. Solutions for avoiding the lock-in problem in the substitution of hazardous chemicals used in consumer products were exposed by Martin Scheringer (ETH Zürich, Switzerland). Moreover, Greenpeace’s Detox campaign has been working to ensure that hazardous chemicals are removed from textile production processes. The representative from Greenpeace Germany, Manfred Santen, concluded that ¨consumers do not know whether there are POPs in products. It is important to directly address the companies and put pressure on them to start using alternatives¨. Arlene Blum (Green Science Policy Institute, California, United States) explained that ¨six classes” or families were identified that contain a large proportion of the harmful chemicals that are commonly used in many consumer products but are not yet adequately regulated. She made a remark on the need of developing innovative solutions to reduce the use of harmful chemicals in consumer products. The SWITCH-Med Action Network's activities that focus on building capacity among start-ups, including those working on putting alternatives into the market, was then presented by Enrique de Villamore, Director at Regional Activity Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production (RAC/SCP).

Frederic Gallo gave his reflections; "Overall, the presentations of the morning session were very relevant. Speakers not only presented the most advanced tools to facilitate the substitution process, such as SUBSPORT tool and  the 'six-classes' approach , but also addressed comprehensively the conceptual challenges that we are facing in order to achieve a sustainable production free of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), given the global increase of consumption of chemical products  and the exponential increase in the developing of new chemicals with few or little knowledge of their toxic properties". Gallo added that in this sense, at the Conference, it was presented a statement to make awareness on long-term harm to health and environment by poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), a problem worsened by the fact that many substitutes that are being developed to this persistent and hazardous substances have unknown toxic properties or even their degradation products present the same toxicity to human health and the environment that the substances that are intended to be replaced. Further information on the Madrid Statement to warn on long-term harm to health and environment by poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) is available here.

Dioxin Poster SWITCH-MedN2 Lead Paint Elimination posterN4 Ecologistas

During the afternoon, we coordinated a discussion session on Sustainable Production and Use chaired by Enrique Villamore (SCP/RAC),  with the active participation of several non-governmental organizations such as Martin Scheringer from the International Panel on Chemical Pollution ( , Semia Gharbi from the International Pesticides Elimination Network (, Manfred Santen from  Greenpeace Germany ( , Dolores Romano from  Ecologistas en Acción (;  platforms such as the toxic chemicals substitution Portal SUBSPORT (, represented by Purificación Moran of the Foundation ISTAS (Institute of Work, Environment and Health))  ; Amit Paul from PAXYMER (, a company that has launched ecological alternatives to toxic chemicals like brominated flame retardants; and intergovernmental organizations such as UNIDO (www.unido,org, represented by Carmela Centeno) and UNEP/MAP (, represented by Tatjana Hema from the Mediterranean Pollution Assessment and Control Programme (MEDPOL).

The aim of the discussion session was to present the challenges on POPs in products, to explore the role of various actors in switching to alternatives to PBDE/BFRs, PFOS/PFAS, PCBs, etc. and to discuss collective actions for tackling barriers to market push and pull including product development, placement and marketing, consumer demand for alternatives and awareness on alternatives.

N5 UNEP MEDPOLNo 3 DIOXIN 2014 POSTER_Paxymer.jpgMany barriers and challengeswere identified by different type of stakeholders including policy-makers, industry, academics and civil society organisations. For instance, academics emphasized that there is a lack of communication both between different domains of science -POPs need an interdisciplinary approach- and with other stakeholders. During the discussion it was agreed that scientific community should strengthen their communication with media and advocacy groups, as scientific results are not sufficiently disseminated. The civil society group mentioned lack of transparency and decision-making process driven by corporate interest in the waste market are main obstacles to progress towards more effective environmental protection policies. Policy-makers highlighted the need to strengthen networking and coordination, and also the need of finding effective mechanism to implement environmental policies at the national level in the Mediterranean. The overall conclusion has been that SWITCH-Med Programme can bring substitution tools such as SUBSPORT to the attention of the target groups (such as SMEs, entrepreneurs and civil society organisations). The programme can also play a core role in dissemination of scientific results to the target groups.

Full list of conclusions are available by clicking here.

Presentations during the afternoon session  can be downloaded below:

The Green Flame Retardant (Paxymer)

IPEN – A toxics-free future

Changing the pattern of consumption and production relying on toxic chemicals (SWITCH-Med)

Sustainable Production & Use (ISTAS)

Posters can be downloaded below:

Sustainable production and use – SWITCH-Med green entrepreneurship programme

Market-Based Strategies to Eliminate Persistent Toxic Pollutants: IPEN’s Global Lead Paint Elimination Campaign

POPs free substitution of halogenated fame retardants as a base for more sustainable production and use

NGO's role in the promotion of sustainable consumption and production

Encouraging POPs Pollution Prevention Measures in Production Processes


For more information on the 34th International Symposium on Halogenated Persistent Organic Pollutants please visit

For further information on POPs, related chemicals and the Stockholm Convention click here.