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POPs Treaty Ratified by 50 Countries, Will Become Law in May 2004
(Beyond Pesticides, February 20, 2004) An international treaty banning the world's most dangerous pesticides, industrial chemicals and hazardous by-products of combustion will enter into force on May 17, 2004 now that 50 countries have ratified the pact, the United Nations announced today. The Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) represents one of the most important efforts by the global community, to date, to rein in and ultimately halt the proliferation of toxic chemicals. The treaty targets some of the world’s most dangerous substances, including PCBs, dioxins and pesticides. It is designed to eliminate or severely restrict production and use of POPs pesticides and industrial chemicals; ensure environmentally sound management and chemical transformation of POPs waste; and prevent the development of new chemicals with POPs-like characteristics.

“Of all the pollutants released into the environment every year by human activity, POPs are the most dangerous,” said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Program (UNEP) under whose auspices the treaty was negotiated. “For decades these highly toxic chemicals have killed and injured people and wildlife by inducing cancer and damaging the nervous, reproductive and immune systems. They have also caused uncounted birth defects.”

The 90-day countdown to the convention’s entry into force was triggered yesterday with France’s ratification. Canada was the first country to ratify, on May 23, 2001. The 12 POPs are aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene, polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs), hexachlorobenzene, dioxins and furans. Most will be banned at once, but use of DDT for disease vector control under UN World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines will continue in many countries to control malaria transmission by mosquitoes. A Review Committee will regularly consider additional substances to be added to the list of those banned. The Convention sets out control measures covering production, import, export, disposal, and use. It requires governments to promote the best available technologies and practices for replacing existing POPs while preventing development of new ones.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), POPs pose a particular hazard because of four characteristics: they are toxic; they are persistent, resisting normal processes that break down contaminants; they accumulate in the body fat of people, marine mammals, and other animals and are passed from mother to fetus; and they can travel great distances on wind and water currents. Even minute quantities can cause nervous system damage, diseases of the immune system, reproductive and developmental disorders, and cancers. Most vulnerable are those in the womb or egg, and in infancy, as vital organ systems are being developed.

Every human carries traces of POPs, which circulate globally through a process known as the "grasshopper effect." POPs released in one part of the world can, through a repeated process of evaporation and deposit, be transported through the atmosphere to regions far away from the original source. Though not soluble in water, they are readily absorbed in fatty tissue, where concentrations can become magnified by up to 70,000 times the background levels. Fish, predatory birds, mammals and humans high up the food chain absorb the greatest concentrations. When they travel, POPs go with them.

President Bush expressed support for the Stockholm Convention in April 2001. However, before becoming a party, the United States be able to fully carry out its obligations under the treaty. It is U.S. policy to enact the necessary implementing legislation prior to the Senate giving its “advice and consent” to ratification. In the case of the Stockholm Convention, the Department of State and EPA determined that the U.S. needs to amend two domestic laws: the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). NGOs and industry agreed early on, in principle, that any amendments should be “surgical,” resulting only in those changes necessary to enable effective implementation of the treaty.

List of 50 parties to the Stockholm Convention: Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Canada, Cote d'Ivoire, Czech Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Denmark, Dominica, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Iceland, Japan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Nauru, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Vietnam, Yemen.