Focus on Latin America: the work of the Uruguayan Technological Laboratory (LATU) in Montevideo, Uruguay

Interview between Charlie Avis, Public Information Officer for the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions, and Chem. Gabriela Medina, Director of the Basel Convention Coordinating Centre, and Stockholm Convention Regional Centre for Latin America and the Caribbean. The Centre (BCCC/SCRC) is hosted by the Uruguayan Ministry of Housing, Land Planning and Environment (MVOTMA, Spanish acronym), and housed in the Technological Laboratory of Uruguay (LATU, Spanish acronym), in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Charlie Avis (CA): Good morning Gabriela and thank you for your time to answer our questions: your Regional Centre is the next in our series whereby we put one Centre per month “in the spotlight” in order to highlight all the many ways the Regional Centres contribute to the implementation of the conventions.

Gabriela Medina (GM): Thank you Charlie for this opportunity to share our work with a wider audience!

CA: Firstly, please tell us a little bit about the Centre (BCCC/SCRC) itself. Where are you housed, institutionally and geographically, how many staff do you have, and when was the BCCC/SCRC established: basically how did the Centre come about?

GM: Charlie, the Basel part of the joint Centre has been operational since 1998 and is hosted by the Technological Laboratory of Uruguay (LATU), established through an agreement between the Ministry of Housing, Land Planning and Environment (MVOTMA) and the Basel Convention Secretariat at that time. It was then endorsed by the 4th COP of the Stockholm Convention in 2009 to act as Regional Centre for Capacity Building and Technology Transfer for the GRULAC Region.

Direction of the Centre, performed by me, belongs to the Ministry of Housing, Land Planning and Environment (MVOTMA), so, I am a public officer working for MVOTMA, and the Co-Direction of the Centre belongs to the Technological Laboratory of Uruguay (LATU), and is performed by my colleague Ing. Alejandra Torre.

Our permanent staff is formed by five persons, Director, Co-Director, two technical assistants, and an accountant, but through our different projects we hire translation and design services and experts in different topics depending on the field of work.

CA: Do you serve all of the countries of the region, how many Parties are there, and how do you manage with language: do you communicate solely in Spanish, or also in Portuguese, or in English or how?

GM: The BCCC/SCRC  serves all the parties to the Latin America and the Caribbean region presently 33 countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Granada, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

We therefore need, and have, the capability to communicate in English, Portuguese and Spanish.

CA: It must be very challenging, yet very rewarding. What are the main technical issues or focus areas covered by the BCCC/SCRC and what activities does the BCCC/SCRC have in order to overcome these challenges?

GM: The focal areas of our work have been:

  • Global Monitoring Programme Phase I (2009-11). Capacity building on POPs Sampling and analysis in breast milk and air samples, in: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.
  • Minimization and environmentally sound management of mercury containing waste affecting most exposed populations in various economic, industrial and health sectors (2010-13), in: Argentina, Costa Rica and Uruguay.
  • Temporary storage and final disposal of mercury and its wastes (2011-12), in: Argentina and Uruguay.
  • The Minamata Convention and its implementation in the Latin America and Caribbean region (2013-14), in all GRULAC countries.
  • Capacity Building on Hazardous Waste and Promotion of Best Available Technologies and Best Environmental Practices (BATs and BEPs) (2013-14), in: Bolivia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Dominican Republic).
  • Regional strategy for strengthening environmental laboratories (2014-15), in: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
  • UNEP Guidance on the Development of Legal and Institutional Infrastructures and Measures for Recovering Costs of National Administration (LIRA Guidance), April to August 2013, we have participated using the Pilot Guidance in Uruguay, as well as being part of the experts group on the elaboration of the Guidance. Parties served: global level.

Nowadays we are working on:

  • Project on Mercury Inventories and Risk Management Plans (2014-17), in: Argentina, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay.
  • Project on Minamata Initial Assessment (2014-17), in: Bolivia, Chile, Dominican Republic and Paraguay.
  • Project: Regional Outlook on Waste Management (ROWM), (2016-17), in: all GRULAC countries.
  • We are Co – Charing jointly with Mauritius, the new Basel global partnership initiative on establishing a Household Waste Initiative.
  • Project: Global Monitoring Proramme Phase II (2015-18). Capacity building on POPs Sampling and analysis in breast milk, water and air samples, in: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.
  • Project: Steering Committee on Chemicals and Waste Network for Latin America and the Caribbean, this is an initiative emerged by the GRULAC Forum of Ministers of Environment (2016-18), in: all GRULAC countries.
  • Project: National Implementation Plans, Stockholm Convention, Umbrella Component (2016 – 2017), in: Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

CA: So I understand one specific area of focus for the BCCC/SCRC is on POPs, and on the Stockholm Convention’s Global Monitoring Programme in particular. Are there concrete evidence of lowering levels of POPs concentrations in your region? Are we winning the battle?

GM: Charlie the situation in POPs is quite complex, we have got data on GMP Phase I (the former 12 pollutants), and now we are carrying on the GMP Phase II, with all the news POPs which have been included. Let’s wait until the next results to see what is happening at least at Regional Level.

CA: Gabriela, can we switch to a topic slightly more personal? How did you come to lead this BCCC/SCRC, how did your career lead you this in your direction, and what advice would you have for other women, hoping or striving for a career in science, or in international development more generally?

GM: Charlie, this is a real personal question, hahahahaha!!.

I started to work in the Environmental Ministry very young in 1994, while I was studying at the University; I started working in the environmental laboratory, where I worked for 13 years.Later in 2007, I was the Director of the Special Solid Waste and Contaminated Sites Department.

Once I obtained a degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry, I took several postgraduate courses in Brazil, Japan, Germany and Holland, I am specialized in environmental toxicology, and as a woman, and living in a developing country, I think I had good job opportunities and training.

The environmental theme is very vast, and given that the development of chemicals and waste grows in an amazing way, since it has an exponential growth, the good news is that there is a lot to do, it has its difficulties, talking about prevention issues, because policies always go one step backward  than industrial development.

In 2011 the Government offered me to Manage the Center, something I accepted immediately, it really is a very challenging job.

For other women I would like tell them that there is a lot to do, and to see the environmental progress over the years is very rewarding, therefore, we should to continue working for the health and environment in a worthy way for our society.

CA: And lastly, please, could you comment briefly on the forthcoming 2017 Triple COPs? Will you be present? What do you see as the main challenges, working towards a Future Detoxified?

GM: Next year will be a great job since we will have the BRS triple COP, the 1st Minamata COP, where the next lines of work will be taken for the coming years, I hope to participate, in fact, I am anxious to be in the different meetings, where we can take decisions for a better world, working to reduce pollutants worldwide, as I pointed out, much remains to be done, and everything is in our hands.

CA: Thank you, for your time and for your answers. Good luck with your important work!

GM: Thank you, Charlie, and if you need any further information on our centre and its activities, please go to our website.