By Anna Nelson, Swiss Info
Ministers and officials from over 100 countries
are meeting in Geneva this week for a high-level conference on
the import and export of hazardous chemicals.
Pesticides and industrial chemicals have poisoned millions of
people in recent decades and killed tens of thousands, according
to the United Nations.
“Every human being on Earth carries in his or her body traces
of various hazardous chemicals, many of which have been linked
to cancer, birth defects and other health problems,” the
UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a statement.
The five-day meeting, which begins on Monday, is being chaired
by the head of the Swiss environment agency, Philippe Roch.
It marks the debut of the so-called Rotterdam Convention, which
aims to reduce the health and environmental risks of hazardous
chemicals by regulating the import and export of such products
– especially in developing nations.
“Increasing human and environmental security is one of
the most important anticipated outcomes of this convention,”
Roch told swissinfo.
“It will also give underdeveloped countries an effective
tool to judge the toxicity of the products they sell and to better
control the import of certain products,” Roch added.
Some 70,000 different chemicals are available on the market today
and around 1,500 new ones are introduced every year, making it
difficult for many countries to monitor and manage potentially
According to the UNEP, many pesticides that have been banned
or severely restricted in industrialised countries are still marketed
and used in developing nations.
Roch said he hoped the Rotterdam Convention would provide a means
to better protect people living in rural areas by "helping
countries learn from each other and increase their understanding
of the risks of hazardous chemicals”.
First line of defence
The UNEP blames accidents, misuse and inadequate controls of hazardous
chemicals for poisoning millions of people and the agency hopes
the treaty will provide a “first line of defence”
for human health and the environment.
“The winners created by this new convention will range
from subsistence farmers to nursing mothers to wildlife,”
said the UNEP’s executive director, Klaus Töpfer.
“Another beneficiary will be the ambitious agenda for sustainable
development and poverty alleviation set out two years ago this
month in Johannesburg by the World Summit on Sustainable Development,”
Under the provisions of the convention, authorisation to export
the most hazardous chemical pesticides and products will no longer
be granted unless the importing country gives its prior informed
At present, 22 pesticides and five chemical products are subject
to the PIC procedures, including the insecticide, DDT, and polychlorinated
biphenyls or PCBs, which are used in transformers.
Carcinogenic asbestos and highly toxic mercury compounds are
also covered by the treaty.
Roch said one of the aims of this week’s conference was
to add 14 new substances to the “watch list” as well
as to define ways to ensure the convention’s long-term effectiveness.
The decision on the site of the permanent Secretariat of the Convention
is also expected to be taken at the end of the conference.
Geneva and the Italian capital, Rome, have managed the secretariat
together since 1998 and have submitted a joint candidature for
the permanent seat. They are up against the German city of Bonn.
Both the Swiss and Italian governments argue that a vote in their
favour would underscore the international community’s desire
to achieve greater coherence and synergy when it comes to international
“The experience of the past five years has show that the
dual seat of the secretariat is a workable and effective solution,”
the Swiss environment agency said in a statement.
“This is a very important decision for Switzerland,”
Original URL: http://www.swissinfo.org/sen/swissinfo.html?siteSect=105&sid=5220452