Geneva/Nairobi, 18 February 2004 –
The 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants
(POPs) will become legally binding on 17 May 2004, the United
Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today.
The 90-day countdown to the treaty’s
entry into force was triggered on 17 February 2004 when France
became the 50th state to ratify the agreement.
“Of all the pollutants released
into the environment every year by human activity, POPs are the
most dangerous. For decades these highly toxic chemicals have
killed and injured people and wildlife by inducing cancer and
damaging the nervous, reproductive and immune systems. They have
also caused uncounted birth defects,” said UNEP Executive
“By committing governments to
eliminating production and environmental releases of these chemicals,
the Stockholm Convention will greatly benefit human health and
the environment. It will also strengthen the overall scope and
effectiveness of international environmental law,” he said.
Governments will pursue a rapid start
to action under the treaty when they meet for the first session
of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP 1) in
Punta del Este, Uruguay in early 2005.
One of this meeting’s priorities
will be to assist countries to combat malaria by replacing DDT
with the increasingly safe and effective alternatives. The COP
will also establish a Committee for evaluating other chemicals
and pesticides that could be added to the initial target list
of 12 POPs (these are aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin,
heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene, polychlorinated biphenols or PCBs,
hexachlorobenzene, dioxins and furans) from a wide range of industrial
and other sources.
Still another key goal for the COP
will be to finalize guidelines for promoting “best environmental
practices” and “best available techniques” that
can reduce or eliminate releases of dioxins and furans (perhaps
the most toxic of all the POPs).
Every human in the world carries traces
of these chemicals in their bodies. POPs are highly stable compounds
that can last for years or decades before breaking down. They
circulate globally through a process known as the "grasshopper
effect". POPs released in one part of the world can, through
a repeated process of evaporation and deposit, be transported
through the atmosphere to regions far away from the original source.
In addition, POPs concentrate in living
organisms through another process called bioaccumulation. Though
not soluble in water, POPs are readily absorbed in fatty tissue,
where concentrations can become magnified by up to 70,000 times
the background levels. Fish, predatory birds, mammals, and humans
are high up the food chain and so absorb the greatest concentrations.
And when they travel, the POPs travel with them.
As a result of these two processes,
the Inuit and the animals they consume in the Arctic -- thousands
of kilometers from any major POPs source – suffer particularly
high levels of POPs in their bodies. But POPs are equally dangerous
to people working with pesticides or living near POPs sources,
particularly in developing countries, where a lack of equipment
and expertise leads to accidental exposures.
Most of the 12 chemicals will be banned
immediately. However, the use of DDT for disease vector control
under World Health Organization guidelines is considered an acceptable
purpose because it is still essential in many countries to control
malaria transmission by mosquitoes. This will permit governments
to protect their citizens from malaria – a major killer
in many tropical regions – until they are able to replace
DDT with chemical and non-chemical alternatives that are cost-effective
and environmentally friendly. So, contrary to some claims, no
one will die of malaria because of the Stockholm Convention. In
fact, the Convention should help direct research and development
towards more effective means of malaria control.
In addition to banning uses, the treaty
focuses on cleaning up the growing accumulation of unwanted and
obsolete stockpiles of pesticides and toxic chemicals. Dump sites
and toxic drums from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s are
now decaying and leaching chemicals into the soil and poisoning
water resources, wildlife, and people.
In the case of PCBs, although they
are no longer produced, hundreds of thousands of tons are still
in use in electrical transformers and other equipment. Governments
have until 2025 to phase out these uses, which gives them time
to arrange for PCB-free replacements. Not later than 2028, governments
must dispose of these PCBs in an environmentally sound manner.
Fortunately, there are alternatives
to POPs. The problem is often that high costs, a lack of public
awareness, and the absence of appropriate infrastructure and technology
have often prevented their adoption. Solutions must be tailored
to the specific properties and uses of each chemical, as well
as to each country's climatic and socio-economic conditions.
To ensure that such solutions are exploited,
donors have pledged to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars
in new funding over the next several years. The Global Environment
Facility is the principal entity of the interim financial mechanism
of the treaty. It has already mobilized resources to support POPs
projects in more than 100 countries. Backed by an alliance of
developed and developing countries – and with both industry
and environmental groups on board – the Stockholm Convention
holds the promise of a POPs-free world for future generations.
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