The Africa Institute for Environmentally Sound Management of Hazardous and Other Wastes (Africa Institute for short) is a world-class regional centre established in accordance with the Basel and Stockholm Conventions, and based in Pretoria, South Africa. It is renowned for its efforts in helping the continent advance the noble goals of the Basel, Stockholm, Rotterdam, Minamata and other related multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). Established in 2009, the organisation has made a significant impact in building capacity in the region to position countries well to comply with various MEAs.
In line with its regional capacity-building programme, and consistent with its commitment to ridding the continent of the ravages of hazardous waste, the Africa Institute is currently leading the implementation of a project in 12 SADC countries that is meant to reduce and eliminate the use and release into the environment of polychlorina-ted biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are widely used as dielectric fluids in electrical transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment. They are among the most unyielding and toxic of the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) listed in the Stockholm Convention. PCBs are characterised by a toxicity and environmental persistence that is very similar to that of dioxins and furans. Some of the adverse effects associated with exposure to PCBs include damage to the immune system, liver, skin, reproductive system, gastrointestinal tract and thyroid gland.
As such, the project aims to reduce and eliminate the use and release of PCBs into the environment through the disposal of PCB-contaminated equipment and PCB-containing oils and waste, and by developing sustainable systems for the sound collection, labelling, storage and disposal of PCB oils and waste in countries involved. Countries participating in the project, which started in September 2016, include Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
To enable the successful elimination of PCBs, the project commenced with extensive training of those responsible for performing inventory in the participating countries. The training provided the high-level skills and knowledge necessary for ongoing inventorying and elimination of PCBs in participating countries, thus ensuring sustainability of the intervention.
Significant strides have been made in the implemen-tation of this project, with the inventory exercise completed in all countries. Through this process, tons of PCB-contaminated oils and equipment were identified. Plans are now under way to have all the contaminated equipment and oils collected for PCB destruction at facilities to be identified.
Other achievements in the implementation of this project thus far include undertaking legal reviews in all participating countries, to establish the existence or otherwise of the legal framework enabling the environmentally sound management of PCBs, with a view to plugging gaps, where they exist, through the guided development of new regulations. Enforcement efforts in participating countries have also been enhanced through the training of no fewer than 48 chemical inspectors and customs officials.
Risk communication strategies have also been developed by all participating countries, with their roll-out planned for the remaining duration of the project and beyond. Of importance again is the documentation of experiences and good practices, which will form part of the inputs into the knowledge-management products to be shared globally.
This project will result in participating countries not only being compliant with the requirements of the Stockholm Convention, but also well positioned and capacitated for the sustainable environmentally sound management of these and other POPs in general.
The Africa Institute is proud to be associated with such a project, which will leave a long-lasting legacy of a PCB-free region. It looks forward to replicating the experience in other countries and proliferating the much-desired PCB-free environment in many other nations.
With its experience, knowledge and capacity, the institute stands ready to work with other countries in the region to help them address this and other environmental issues.