Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
Canada is one of the world's top producers of chrysotile asbestos, or "white asbestos" and exports nearly all of its production. Four other carcinogenic forms of asbestos, including blue and brown asbestos have already been added to the PIC list. "PIC is particularly valuable for developing countries, and it is frustrating to see the goal of information sharing to protect public health being undermined by the commercial interests of a handful of nations. This kind of information will help governments evaluate the risks to their workers and citizens, and it could help save lives," said Barbara Dinham of Pesticide Action Network UK, who attended the Geneva meeting.
Under the PIC treaty, which came into force in February of this year, a chemical that has been banned or severely restricted in two regions of the world is considered for addition to the Prior Informed Consent list. When a chemical is listed, all countries who are Parties must indicate whether they consent to, or prohibit, the import. These decisions are circulated every six months, and exporting countries must ensure their exporters comply. The treaty also requires countries to notify importers of any exports of pesticides or other chemicals that they have banned or severely restricted. This notification must take place before the first export of each year.
The PIC treaty has been voluntarily implemented by many nations since 1998, and has long been a priority of the global Pesticide Action Network and other groups concerned with "chemical dumping" or routine, profit-driven export of chemicals from nations that have banned or restricted them nationally to protect human and environment health. "The Rotterdam Convention will provide a first line of defense for human health and the environment against the potential dangers of hazardous chemicals and pesticides," said Klaus Topfer, of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Before the September 20th meeting, 22 of the hazardous chemicals on the PIC list were pesticides. Of the 14 added to the list, nine are pesticides, including the insecticides monocrotophos, parathion, and toxaphene. The additions also include a number of specific severely hazardous pesticide formulations that cause problems under the conditions of use in developing countries. A UNEP statement for the Conference of Parties points out that only 25% of global pesticide use takes place in developing countries, yet a staggering 99% of acute pesticide-related fatalities occur there. Farmers and their families are especially vulnerable to pesticide related illness in many developing countries because protective clothing and equipment for handling pesticides is frequently unavailable or impractical.
The PIC treaty was carefully designed to ensure governments receive critical information and notification prior to export, and does not otherwise restrict or ban chemicals. In contrast, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which also came into force this year, does target a set of chemicals meeting specific criteria for global elimination. UNEP officials emphasize that 70,000 chemicals are now in world trade, with 1,500 being added each year.
While incorporation of new chemicals under either treaty is expected to be controversial, "This [PIC] treaty is not about bans," said Carl Smith, of the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education. "What it's about is information exchange." He added, "if we can't even meet the standard of information exchange, we're in trouble."
Note: The Rotterdam Convention's initial list of Prior Informed Consent includes the following 22 hazardous pesticides: 2,4,5-T, aldrin, captafol, chlordane, chlordimeform, chlorobenzilate, DDT, 1,2-dibromoethane (EDB), dieldrin, dinoseb and dinoseb salts, fluoroacetamide, HCH (mixed isomers), heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, lindane, mercury compounds, and pentachlorophenol, plus certain formulations of methamidophos, methyl-parathion, monocrotophos, parathion, and phosphamidon. Five industrial chemicals on the list are: asbestos (crocidolite, actinolite, anthophyllite, amosite, tremolite), polybrominated biphenyls (PBB), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), polychlorinated terphenyls (PCT) and tris (2,3 dibromopropyl) phosphate. The 14 new chemicals to be added are the pesticides: binapacryl, toxaphene, ethylene dichloride, ethylene oxide, DNOC and its salts, and monocrotophos and parathon (certain formulations of these latter two were included but are now fully covered) and dustable powder formulations containing a combination of benomyl at or above 7 per cent, carbofuran at or above 10 per cent and thiram at or above 15 per cent. Other chemicals added are the additional forms of asbestos -- actinolite anthophyllite, amosite, tremolite, and tetraethyl and tetramethyl lead. The PIC Rotterdam Convention, website is http://www.pic.int.
Sources: Press Release, September 16, 2004, UNEP and FAO, http://www.pic.int; PANUPS, Nov 26, 2003; Reuters, Washington, DC, September 20, 2004; Agence France Presse, Rome, September 20, 2004; Toronto Star, September 21, 2004.