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POPs Treaty to Protect Environment and Health
P A N U P S - Pesticide Action Network Updates Service
December 22, 2000
Delegates from 122 countries ended a week of negotiations in Johannesburg, South Africa, on December 10 with agreement on an international treaty to eliminate persistent organic pollutants (POPs)(see list below). The final treaty is strongly supported by NGOs from around the world who have tracked the negotiations for several years.
The treaty identifies an initial list of 12 POPs slated for elimination, with various phaseout timetables for each chemical. An official signing ceremony will be held in Stockholm, Sweden in May 2001, and the treaty will go into force when ratified by 50 countries. This initial list, which includes nine pesticides, will be expanded over time according to criteria set forth in the treaty.
One of the most controversial issues in the final negotiations was how the "precautionary principle" would appear in the treaty, and specifically what role it would play in the addition of new chemicals. Throughout the negotiations, the European Union supported the inclusion of a precautionary approach, which allows that when enough information is available to raise legitimate concerns about a chemical, the international community should act to protect public health. A small number of countries led by the United States, and including Australia, Japan and Canada, insisted that this approach would be "unscientific" and would bring too many chemicals under the treaty.
The compromise reached involves the adoption of both a precautionary approach and a rigorous scientific review of health effects of chemicals being considered. While many NGO's had hoped the precautionary language would be even stronger, they are pleased that the concept is included in several key sections of the final treaty language.
The treaty also includes provisions for financial and technical assistance to developing countries to meet treaty obligations. A limited public health exemption for continued use of DDT to control malaria was put in place, along with strong incentives to develop and adopt safer alternatives.
Nearly 100 NGO representatives were present during the final negotiations, including several Pesticide Action Network representatives and many other organizations participating in the International POPs Elimination Network. Many of these NGOs have worked throughout the several years of negotiations to raise public awareness about POPs and press their governments to support a strong treaty.
Chemical manufacturers were also well represented at the meeting, and outlined several specific demands for the treaty, including limited reference to the precautionary principle, no goal of elimination for byproducts (dioxins, furans), and inclusion of several broad categories of general exemptions. While some narrowed exemptions remain (which NGOs pledged to work to tighten further during the treaty implementation process) none of the chemical industry's suggested approaches appear in the final treaty.
While NGO representatives following POPs issues are pleased with the strength of the POPs treaty, they note that agreement on the treaty text must be seen as the beginning rather than the end of the treaty process. These NGOs urge civil society to maintain pressure on their governments to ensure that the treaty is ratified and implementation initiated as soon as possible.
12 POP'S INCLUDED IN TREATY
o Chlordane. A pesticide used to control termites and ants in buildings, crops, nurseries and forest plantations and to control the Rhinoceros beetle. Last manufacturer stopped production in 1997, but stockpiles could still be used. Chlordane harms the immune system.
o Dieldrin. A pesticide with uses similar to those of Aldrin. It also probably is no longer manufactured, but stockpiles could still be used. Dieldrin harms the reproductive system.
o DDT. A pesticide used to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes, tsetse flies and illegal control of crop pests. Up to 50,000 tons are estimated to be produced per year. DDT harms the reproductive system.
o Endrin. A pesticide used to control pests in corn, rice, cotton and sugarcane crops, and to control mice. It probably is not produced anymore, and it seems not to be used. Endrin is carcinogenic.
o Heptachlor. A pesticide used to control termites and ants in buildings, crops, nurseries and forest plantations, and to control cut worms. Last manufacturer stopped production in 1997, but stockpiles might still be used. Heptachlor is carcinogenic and harms the reproductive system.
o Mirex. A pesticide used to control termites and ants in crops, grassland, forests and buildings. Also used as a fire retardant. Some production of smaller quantities may still take place. Mirex is carcinogenic.
o Toxaphene. A pesticide used in agriculture and mosquito control. Toxaphene can cause thyroid tumors and cancer.
o Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). Industrial chemicals used in electric transformers and capacitors, and as additives in paint, carbonless copy paper and plastics. PCBs are linked to reproductive failure and suppression of the immune system in various wild animals.
o Hexachlorobenzene. A pesticide and industrial chemical used as fungicide. It is probably not produced as a fungicide anymore, but it is a byproduct of the manufacturing of other chemicals. Hexachlorobenzene harms the immune and reproductive systems.
o Dioxins. An industrial byproduct created by car emissions and the burning of waste. Dioxins are carcinogenic and harm the reproductive and immune systems. o Furans. Toxic byproducts of waste burning and industrial production.
You can join our efforts! We gladly accept donations for our work and all contributions are tax deductible in the United States. Visit our extensive web site at http://www.panna.org to learn more about getting involved.
Sources: PANNA; NGO Press Release from Johannesburg--Sierra Club Canada, Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, Great Lakes United (USA/Canada), National Toxics Network (Australia), RAPAM (Pesticide Action Network - Mexico), Commonweal (USA), CNIID (France), The Council of Canadians; http://www.ourstolenfuture.org.
For more information on the treaty: http://www.ourstolenfuture.org, http://www.iisd.ca/chemical/pops5/
For information on POPs pesticides: http://www.pesticideinfo.org
To become involved with the International POPs Elimination Network: http://www.ipen.org.
PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.
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