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Three hazardous substances considered for UN treaty ‘watch list’

Three hazardous substances considered for UN treaty ‘watch list’

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme
Ministers and officials will decide whether to add three hazardous chemicals – including the world’s most widely used form of asbestos – to a trade “watch list” under a United Nations-backed treaty, aimed at helping developing countries more effectively manage potentially harmful imported substances.

There are 39 substances on the Rotterdam Convention’s international trade watch list, under which an exporting nation must ensure no substance on the list leaves its territory without the consent of the recipient country. The watch list is formally known as the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.

Over 120 member states will consider adding two pesticides – endosulfan and tributyl tin compounds – and the industrial chemical chrysotile asbestos to the PIC list at next week’s Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention in Rome, according to a press release issued today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Convention is designed to ensure that hazardous chemicals do not endanger human health and the environment but inclusion on the list is not a recommendation for an international ban or severe restriction of the use of the substance.

“The Convention’s focus on trade reflects international concerns regarding the impact of hazardous chemicals and pesticides on human health and the environment,” said Executive Director Achim Steiner of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which along with FAO jointly manages the Convention secretariat.

“[This is] a concern shared not only by scientists, technical specialists and environmentalists, but by the entire human family,” Mr. Steiner added.

Chrysotile asbestos, which is widely used in building materials, accounts for some 94 per cent of global asbestos production. The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has identified it as a human carcinogen, and reports that at least 90,000 people die each year of asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

A number of countries, including some that continue to mine and export chrysotile asbestos, blocked its addition to the PIC list when the Parties to the Convention last met in 2006 and further opposition is expected at next week’s meeting, according to FAO.