By IEC Department
As the institution with the mandate to effectively protect the environment, the Environment Protection Agency has undertaken a one day training of Custom Officers of the National Revenue Authority (NRA) to acquaint them with chemical control measures and to give participants the requisite knowledge and skills on how to identify hazardous chemicals.
The EPASL's Deputy Director of Policy, Planning and Research, Mr. Sheikh Ahmed Tunis thanked the Management of Customs for welcoming the team to conduct the training. He gave an overview of the EPA including its mission, vision and the overall mandate.
With regards the purpose of the training on the management and control of chemicals, he told participants that Sierra Leone had signed and ratified a number of treaties and conventions for which action was needed to complement the effort of the EPA. He told all present that the Agency relied very much on NRA especially the Customs Department whose operations cover the importing and exporting of goods including chemicals for control measures so as to protect the environment. The training was also aimed at strengthening collaboration between the EPASL and the National Revenue Authority. It was part of EPA's routine programmes to build the capacity of MDAs on environmental protection and management in Sierra Leone.
Custom officers play a critical role in the movement of goods within and across the territory of Sierra Leone. This is particularly significant as there is a rising global importation of hazardous waste and chemicals from developed to developing countries and trans-boundary movement of substances between countries. Since Custom border posts are the gateway to the country, it was necessary to give these Officers manning the entry points with the requisite knowledge so as to be able to detect, and report dangerous substances to the EPASL. In essence, this will help Agency determine the status of dangerous substances in Sierra Leone.
Participants were also trained on some of the international conventions and treaties on chemical control that Sierra Leone has signed to and ratified. This was a very important aspect of the training to educate participants on these conventions and treaties to be aware of the responsibility of member states to implement.
These conventions included the Montreal Protocol, Basel Convention, Rotterdam Convention Stockholm Convention, and the Minamata Convention.
With regards to the Montreal Protocol, Participants learnt that the formulation of the protocol was borne out of the need to protect the ozone layer from depletion since it was discovered that certain man-made chemicals were contributing a great deal to the destruction of the ozone layer which protects us from the direct rays of the sun. The destruction of the ozone layer impacts our health causing skin cancer, eye cataract, breakdown of the immune system. Plants and animals are also affected, and with severe consequences on food security.
These man-made chemicals or Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) which are found in Air Conditioning Systems, refrigerators, and used as cleaning agents and fumigation pose serious environmental consequences. This is where the role of custom officers becomes critical. Mr. Tamba Nyaka, the National Focal Point for Ozone at the Agency, informed participants that some of these items contained banned substances and reiterated that custom officers should be in a position to identify and report to EPA these incidences adding that under Article 7 of the Montreal Protocol, state parties are required to report their imports and exports of these ODS. He added that providing the relevant data to the EPASL will further enable the Agency to determine which substance is banned or which one is controlled.
He called on NRA to integrate import and export licenses already created by the EPA into their ASYCUDA system. This he said will enable the Agency to give permit to substances and other goods including gases that are permissible to be in Sierra Leone.
Commenting on the Basel and the Stockholm Conventions, the Assistant Deputy Director for Chemical Control Management Department who also doubles as the National Focal point for the Stockholm Convention, Mr. Alie Dukuray Jalloh, told participants that unlike the Ozone, these Conventions were yet to be ratified by Sierra Leone but that the Agency will keep a close watch on what is happening in the sectors.
He further informed participants that these conventions were entirely on waste management and chemical control, adding that accumulation of waste was an expensive enterprise. This is the more reason why the EPASL is soliciting the cooperation of NRA to ensure that anything that is technical in nature and has something to do with waste importation and export that warrants the intervention of the agency should be reported accordingly. He took participants through the various categories of waste and the various modes by which they are often brought to Sierra Leone.
Clinical Waste which often comes in the name of donations to Connaught Hospital and other clinical facilities are mere waste; often times, these items can only take a month or two and then depreciate. They are pure waste; they are only bringing them after they have outlived their usefulness in the western world.
Another category of wastes mentioned by Mr. Jalloh was used oil or Petroleum products. There is lot of movements of oil or petroleum wastes which requires the attention of the EPA before they are brought into the country. He also said anything that has to do with explosives often used by mining companies must be reported to the Agency. He also informed participants about the movement of pesticides and industrial waste which requires the attention of the Agency.
He informed participants about the international system for the movement of these items across national boundaries known as the International Notification System that allows countries to export some of these items through the appropriate channels which must be followed. He affirmed that EPA should also be alerted on these movements even when the country is only used as a transit point and not the final destination. He said any time they encounter any vessel engaged in this type of activity should be asked to produce their transit notification.
With regards to the Rotterdam Convention Mr. Bashiru Kargbo Senior Environment Officer told participants that it focuses mainly on the control of hazardous chemicals and pesticides. This he said was a call to action to respond to the dramatic increase in the production and trade in chemicals in the past decade.
He said it was imperative to engage custom officers at this stage since they have a critical role to play to put checks in place for effective control of these substances. Mr. Kargbo stated that Article (12) of the Rotterdam Convention which deals with Import and Export Notifications has direct relation to customs' operations. There is a requirement that any country wanting to import or export hazardous chemicals and pesticides should get the consent of the other party through the information exchange system.
The Final Presentation was made by Mr. Mohamed Kamara, Senior Environment Officer on the Minamata Convention. This convention came about as a response to the need to control poisonous chemical called mercury. It disrupts the nervous systems of humans, causes memory loss, affect children and mothers of child bearing age. Another danger associated with this is that it moves across boundaries and takes a longtime before it disintegrates. Mercury is found in energy saving bulbs, relay in vehicles, skin lightening creams, and used by small scale artisanal gold miners to extract gold.
As a country Sierra Leone is obliged to provide comprehensive reports in these areas, thus making the operations of custom officers very critical. The training was very educative and informative as it provided an opportunity for participants to learn about various hazardous chemicals and wastes as well as opened widely their eyes to the various forms these substances and wastes are brought into the country often times under the guise of donations. It is now expected that the custom officers trained will use this knowledge to identify and report adequately to EPA to effectively monitor in order to protect the environment of Sierra Leone from the dangers associated with chemicals mismanagement and wastes.
On the whole, the Assistant commissioner of Operations of the National Revenue Authority Mr. Kpana Conteh thanked staff of the Environment Protection Agency for providing such timely and vital information to his staff who he said will use the knowledge gained to protect the environment of Sierra Leone. He requested the EPA to provide the full list of all the chemicals which he said will aid their work and enhance timely reporting to the Agency. The Deputy Commissioner of Customs Mr. Tennyson Bio who was also present for the training thanked EPA for the training which he described as the beginning of knowledge his staff will be getting from various stakeholders.