Governments to take decisive action to implement UN-backed treaty against organic pollutants

6 May 2005

A meeting to review a United Nations-backed treaty banning a "dirty dozen" industrial chemicals wrapped up its work today in Uruguay, with participants pledging to move forward energetically to reduce and eliminate the 12 highly hazardous substances.

The conference this week in Punta del Este focused on the UN-sponsored Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which entered into force last year. The treaty targets some of the most dangerous of all man-made products or wastes, which cause deaths, diseases and birth defects among humans and animals.

A key outcome of the conference was the establishment of a POPs Review Committee that will be responsible for evaluating additional chemicals that could be added to the treaty's initial list of 12. The panel will hold its first meeting later this year in Geneva and its recommendations will be forwarded to future annual meetings of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention.

The Committee starts its work with four candidates proposed before or during this week's Conference. Norway nominated the flame retardant pentabromodiphenyl ether. Mexico has nominated a group of chemicals known as hexachlorocyclohexanes, which include the pesticide lindane, and the European Union has proposed listing the pesticide chlordecone and the flame retardant hexabromobiphenyl.

The meeting further agreed on how to evaluate the Convention's progress in reducing the levels of POPs in the environment. It established a system for requesting and registering temporary exemptions to the phase-out of certain chemicals.

"This week's conference has provided an inspiring example of how countries can work together through the United Nations to find global solutions to global problems," said Executive Director Klaus Toepfer of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), under whose auspices the Convention was adopted in 2001.

One of the chemicals already targeted by the Convention is DDT. The meeting recognized, however, that some 25 countries will need to continue spraying controlled amounts of DDT on the inside walls of houses to combat malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The progress being made on developing safe, affordable and locally effective alternatives to DDT will be reviewed again in three years. Delegates agreed on the rules and documentation for collecting the information needed for conducting such reviews.

The 12 initial POPs covered by the Stockholm Convention include nine pesticides (aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex and toxaphene); two industrial chemicals (PCBs as well as hexachlorobenzene, also used as a pesticide); and unintentional by-products, most importantly dioxins and furans.


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