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Four New Chemicals Targeted for Elimination at First Official Stockholm Convention Meeting
Government officials from Mexico, Norway and the European Union are proposing the addition of four new chemicals to the list for global elimination under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs Treaty). The proposals came forward as delegates from the 98 countries that have ratified the international agreement met in Punta del Este, Uruguay in early May for the first official meeting since the Convention came into effect in May 2004.
The four chemicals targeted include the insecticide lindane (hexachlorocyclohexane – nominated by Mexico), as well as the pesticide chlordecone and two brominated flame retardants, pentabromodiphenyl ether and hexabromobiphenyl.
Lindane, which has both agricultural and pharmaceutical uses, is currently undergoing review in the North America region under the Commission on Environmental Cooperation. Under current drafts of a North American Regional Action Plan for the chemical, Mexico has agreed to phase out all uses, while Canada continues to allow pharmaceutical uses for lice and scabies control and the U.S. continues to allow both agricultural and pharmaceutical uses. An estimated 52 countries have banned all uses of lindane (see http://www.panna.org/campaigns/lindane.html for more information).
Chlordecone, nominated for inclusion in the treaty by the European Union, is an organochlorine insecticide that has been banned in at least 11 countries, and is no longer registered for use in dozens more. It is considered a probable carcinogen, reproductive toxin and endocrine disrupting chemical. Both lindane and chlordecone have been on PAN International’s Dirty Dozen pesticide list since the early 1980s.
A key item on the official agenda at the Uruguay meeting was the establishment of the POPs Review Committee, the scientific body that will evaluate submissions of new chemicals to be included under the treaty. The Committee will determine whether nominated chemicals meet the criteria of toxicity, bioaccumulation, persistence and transport laid out in the treaty, and will then forward their recommendation to the government delegates for consideration. The Committee, which will include government and scientific representatives, will meet every six months in Geneva with the first meeting scheduled for fall 2005. The UNEP Secretariat estimates that the process of adding a chemical to the treaty could take 2-4 years.
Current country-specific exemptions for DDT use in malaria control were also reviewed by delegates, who agreed that this limited DDT public health use continues to be justified. The treaty requires periodic reviews of the DDT exemptions, and also requires that countries using DDT demonstrate that they are moving forward with research and promotion of alternatives. Due in part to pressure from NGOs at the meeting, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) received guidance from Uruguay meeting to focus DDT alternative spending on integrated vector management and nonchemical controls, rather than just insecticidal replacements. The GEF provides funding to developing countries for implementation of the treaty.
The more than 800 meeting participants included dozens of NGOs from around the world, including many PAN groups and participants in the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), which hosted a three-day strategy meeting before the official event. Also included in the participant list were observer delegations from countries that have not yet ratified the treaty, such as the United States. The U.S. and other observer countries will not be eligible for membership the POPs Review Committee until the end of the first four-year term for this body, though the U.S. will continue to exert considerable influence on the process as an observer.
In addition to tracking official negotiations at the meeting, the strong NGO contingent organized an “egg tasting event” to highlight the results of an IPEN egg sampling study. Chicken eggs were sampled in 17 countries for some of the POPs already included under the convention (dioxins, furans, PCBs) as well as candidate POPs (HCH/lindane and PBDEs). To bring the abstract policy work home to the government officials, NGOs served egg snacks on napkins printed with the message “Keep the Promise – Eliminate POPs!” and distributed information about the egg study’s findings.
In an official luncheon event at the session, IPEN groups also reported on NGO work around the world pressing for rapid ratification and assisting (and monitoring) government officials in the implementation of the Stockholm Convention. Effective NGO involvement in many aspects of the Stockholm Convention process is widely recognized as contributing to both the effectiveness of the treaty and its rapid adoption by governments around the world. The next official meeting of the Stockholm Convention is scheduled for May 2006.
Sources: PANNA’s Ban Lindane Now! Campaign page: http://www.panna.org/campaigns/lindane.html, PANNA’s International Treaties page, including link to DDT & malaria resource center: http://www.panna.org/campaigns/treaties.html. International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) – http://www.ipen.org. IPEN’s International POPs Elimination Project, including egg sampling study information – http://www.oztoxics.org/ipepweb/. Information on US ratification efforts – http://www.uspopswatch.org, Stockholm convention website – http://www.pops.int/. International Institute for Sustainable Development daily meeting coverage – http://www.iisd.ca/chemical/pops/cop1/. Contact: Panna.
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