GENEVA (Reuters) – Negotiators from more than 180 countries are nearing agreement on a global ban on a toxic chemical linked to cancer and other health issues, but China is pushing for an exemption for use in firefighting foams, campaigners said on Wednesday.

PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and other fluorinated organic compounds known as PFAS are used widely, including in non-stick kitchen ware such as Teflon, textiles, food packaging, photo-imaging, and fire-fighting foams on oil rigs and at airports.

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) is holding negotiations till May 10 on expanding three treaties that target hazardous substances, including the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

A key issue is whether to ban fluorinated firefighting foam, which is a leading cause of water contamination associated with cancer, thyroid problems and harm to fetal development, the activist group IPEN said.

“We are here with fire fighters, fire safety experts and indigenous experts to call for a global ban on PFOA,” Pamela Miller, co-chair of IPEN, told a news briefing.

“This is a dispersive use that is harming the health of firefighters directly and also contaminating the drinking water of millions of people around the world,” she said.

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