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PANNA: World Activists Press for Action on Global Poisons

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May 17, 2006 -- Andrew Olsen


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PAN Reports: World Activists Press for Action on Global Poisons
May 18, 2006

Chocolate served to government officials to highlight contamination of common foods

After four days of slow and frustrating negotiations, delegates to the second Stockholm Convention meeting in Geneva, Switzerland were served a sweet dose of reality as they emerged from their morning session. Chocolate and soft drinks – along with information on the POPs chemicals likely to be found in these and other common foods – were offered to government officials on trays carried by individuals from environmental health and indigenous rights groups who had travelled to the meeting from all over the world.

The Stockholm Convention is an international treaty that bans persistent organic pollutants, also known as POPs. The designated poisons are long lasting toxic chemicals, including some pesticides, that travel the globe and can be found as contaminates in almost everything, including our own bodies. The "Food for Thought" event was conceived to show officials that these poisons are found virtually everywhere, and to press for rapid action to phase out global poisons.

Standing next to colleagues from Senegal, the Philippines, Mexico, India, China and Chickaloon village in Alaska, Pesticide Action Network's Program Coordinator Kristin Schafer served the treats to appreciative government officials, along with an open letter (link to Food For Thought sheet) highlighting recent studies finding POPs chemicals in common foods around the world and urging rapid action to ban persistent organic pollutants.

"This courageous treaty phases out an entire class of dangerous chemicals that would otherwise impact generations to come" says Schafer. "Government officials must remember how important their work is to the rest of the world outside the conference center walls. They have a deep responsibility for protecting public health, and we call on them to insist that public health and environmental safety take precedent over profit, and that this visionary treaty be honoured by everyone."

The Geneva gathering was the second official meeting of parties to the Stockholm Convention on POPs (COP2), and took place May 1- May 5 th with more than 450 delegates and observers attending from 122 countries. The United States has signed but not yet ratified the treaty, so they participated in the meeting as observers.

The "Food for Thought" event, organized by PAN and our partners at Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) and Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), had full participation from NGOs attending the meeting, including colleagues from PAN organizations around the world and other members of the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN). PAN helped to organize a similar "egg tasting" event for delegates at the first Stockholm Convention meeting in Uruguay last year to highlight an IPEN study of POPs chemicals in eggs around the world.

"In Alaska we are seeing cancer not only in our people but in the animals we harvest for our traditional foods which sustain us," says Shawna Larson, an Alaska native from Chickaloon village who serves as the Environmental Justice Program Director for ACAT and IEN. "We know we are contaminated with POPs and we have higher concentrations levels in the arctic. We also know that regular store bought foods contain these toxic chemicals as well and there is no way to escape them. So I went to COP2 to urge quick action on the convention to phase out these toxic chemicals for the health of my people and the health of 7 generations to come."

The initial list of POPs chemicals targeted for phase out under the treaty includes nine pesticides: aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, chlordane, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene and DDT. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) as well as dioxins and furans (industrial by-products) are also on the list.

The pesticides lindane and chlordecone and the industrial chemicals pentabromodiphenyl ether, hexabromobiphenyl and perflurooctane sulfonate were nominated for addition to the list in 2005.

One of the key issues discussed by the delegates at the Geneva meeting was "effectiveness evaluation," and how to best move forward with establishing and financing a program for global monitoring (mostly biomonitoring and air monitoring) to create a baseline understanding of the POPs problem and then monitor the impact of the treaty over time.

There was also an update from the scientific review committee considering new POPs, with the report that all five chemicals submitted in 2005 have passed the initial screening process and are moving forward for further consideration. The delegates also discussed the treaty's DDT exemption for malaria control, reporting on an evaluation of alternative controls by the World Health Organization (WHO). NGOs pressed for a focus on the systemic approaches to malaria control that have proven effective in so many countries, including investment in nonchemical controls that don't further threaten public health. WHO is developing a new  Global Malaria Strategy  that will be reviewed by a panel of experts in the fall and presented to the next POPs Treaty meeting in Senegal in May 2007.

In their open letter to delegates, NGOs urged officials to move rapidly to phase out POPs chemicals. "The decisions you are making at the COP2 meeting in Geneva are important, right now, to the health and well being of people around the world. Every day, families are taking POPs into their bodies in the air they breathe, the food they eat and the beverages they drink."

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., a Congressional committee will this week be considering HR 4591, a bill that would weaken U.S. implementation of the Stockholm Convention and undermine the precautionary intent of the treaty. The U.S. signed the Stockholm Convention in 2001, but has to make minor adjustments to law in order to ratify the treaty. HR 4591, proposed by Congressman Paul Gillmor, would undermine state's rights to regulate POPs chemicals, make it difficult for the U.S. to take action on new POPs chemicals when they are added under the treaty, and could place the benefit of commerce over public health protections. Read PAN's news advisory on Gillmor's bill.


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