The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) is an international treaty designed to end the production and use of some of the world’s most poisonous chemicals.

• Many of these chemicals have been used to kill insects and other pests. Others were used as industrial chemicals, or were produced as a by-product of industrial processes. What they have in common is that they are bad for people and environment, they last a long time, and they travel over great distances, transported by the air and water.

• The Convention picks twelve of these chemicals that it intends to try to get rid of. They include PCBs, Dioxins and DDT.

• A part of the Convention allows countries to continue using DDT for malaria control, if necessary.

• The Convention allows countries that belong to it to add more chemicals to the list of substances to be banned or restricted in member countries.

• The Convention was signed in 2001 after several years of negotiations between representatives of more than 120 countries. After fifty of those countries officially ratified the Convention, it came into force.

Once the Convention comes into force, countries that belong to it are bound to take certain steps:

1. End the production and use of some chemicals, and restrict the production and use of others.
2. Clean up stockpiles of unwanted and out of date chemicals. Many of these chemicals are stored in unsafe conditions, and are poisoning the water, animals, and people.
3. Develop a plan within two years that shows how the country will meet its obligations under the convention.
4. Try to stop the production and use of new chemicals which are like the ones already in the Convention.

• The Convention recognizes that it will be too costly and difficult for some countries to clean up the chemicals on their own. It commits richer countries to helping out, with money, and with technical help.

• Donors have promised to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars. POPs projects in more than 100 countries are already being supported.


The biggest benefit of ratifying the Convention does not flow to just one country, but to all countries. The types of poisonous chemicals that the Convention deals with do not stay in one place. They do not recognize national borders. They travel on the wind, and on the water, and can poison people and the environment for many years after they were released. As more countries ratify the convention, then more countries have the ability to clean up these poisonous chemicals, so all countries benefit.

• Financial and technical assistance: The people who negotiated the Stockholm Convention realized that some countries need money and resources to clean up the chemicals in their countries. Without this help, they can not afford to ratify the Convention. The developed countries that have ratified the Convention have agreed to provide the help necessary.

• For instance, Belarus, a country that has just ratified the Convention, notes that it is now eligible for up to $500,000 U.S. to complete its national plan for controlling and eliminating the chemicals identified in the Convention.

• The Convention makes it clear that providing assistance to countries that need it is essential to the Convention’s success: “The extent to which the developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under this Convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under this Convention relating to financial resources, technical assistance and technology transfer. The fact that sustainable economic and social development and eradication of poverty are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties will be taken fully into account, giving due consideration to the need for the protection of human health and the environment.”

• Stockpiles: There are large and small stockpiles of poisonous chemicals in many countries. Some developing countries in particular received some dangerous chemicals that were banned in other countries. Many of these chemicals are now stored in old rusty barrels, and other unsafe conditions, and are leaking into the water and soil. The Stockholm Convention helps countries to identify, then safely collect, transport, and dispose of these stockpiles.

• A voice in international decisions: Many decisions on parts of the Stockholm convention have yet to be made. These decisions cover such things as how assistance will be provided to developing countries, adding new chemicals to the Convention, and best methods of dealing with existing chemicals. The decisions will be made at a meeting called a “Conference of the Parties” early in 2005. Only countries that have ratified the Convention at least 90 days before will have a vote at that meeting.


The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) will not make it more likely that people will be infected with malaria. The Convention allows countries that ratify the Convention to continue using DDT for controlling mosquitoes that spread malaria.

• The Convention says that countries that use DDT for malaria control should use guidelines written by the World Health Organization. These guidelines try to stop the DDT from getting into the environment.

• DDT has been shown to harm animals. It is thought to also harm people. It is thought to cause cancer. Recent studies have also linked DDT to premature births, and to the production of less milk by nursing mothers.

• Although the Stockholm Convention allows countries to continue using DDT for malaria control, it encourages them to also look at safe, effective and affordable alternatives.

• It should be no harder or more expensive for countries that now use DDT to continue using it after they ratify the Convention. The Convention contains no powers to forbid countries from producing, importing or using DDT for malaria control.

• DDT is not a permanent solution for malaria control. Besides the risk that DDT use may be harmful to people and the environment, mosquitoes can also become immune to DDT, so that it is no longer useful.

• The Convention encourages countries that have ratified to help countries using DDT to find other products or methods to combat malaria. The steps that will be taken are to be discussed at a future meeting.

• Several countries (Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Yemen) that use DDT for Malaria control have already ratified the Convention.


“There is virtually no developing country or economy in transition that does not have a stockpile of obsolete pesticides.”
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

• The FAO has spent several years trying to find out how many stockpiles of outdated pesticides exist, and deal with those stockpiles. The organization estimates that there may be as much as half a million tonnes of old pesticides in these stockpiles.

• About 20,000 tonnes are believed to be stockpiled in Africa, with perhaps another 80,000 tonnes in Asia and Latin America, and at least 150,000 tonnes in countries of the former Soviet Union.

• Stocks of old pesticides can includes a variety of poisonous substances, including arsenic and mercury. The FAO estimates chemicals to be eliminated under the Stockholm convention make up about 20% of stockpiles.

• Stockpiled pesticides that come under the Stockholm Convention (endrin, mirex, toxaphene, chlordane, heptachlor, aldrin, dieldrin) are associated with a variety of harmful effects on human health. Those effects include damage to the nervous system, the immune system, and damage to internal organs such as the kidneys and liver. They have also been linked to cancer, and health defects.

• Many of the stockpiles are small and scattered, making it difficult to contain and control them. In some cases, the chemicals are stored unsafely and are leaking into the environment. Most stockpiles are situated near water, as that is where most agriculture takes place. The FAO has documented cases where the water relied on for drinking by local people has become contaminated. In other places, the pesticides have contaminated soil in the area where they are stored.

• Ratifying the Stockholm Convention will help countries to deal with their stockpiles. The convention requires that countries make lists of what is in their stockpiles. Stockpiles containing Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), the chemicals listed for elimination under the Convention, must be securely stored until they can be destroyed in an environmentally sound manner.

• A program recently started by some non-government and United Nations organizations, the “Africa Stockpiles Program”, will give African countries additional help to deal with their stockpiles. In October 2002, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) pledged US$25 million to the program. A condition of funding will be ratification of the global Stockholm Convention.


The entry into force of the Stockholm Convention finishes one phase or work on dealing with Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), and signals the start of a new phase. The Convention does not just deal with the past, the twelve substances that it identified for action, but also with future potential threats of a similar nature. The convention was designed to be able to respond to those new threats, and to find new and better ways of dealing with the old threats.

• Those countries which have ratified the convention have the ability to make decisions at regular meetings called “Conference of the Parties”. The decisions they can make include:

1.Adding new POPs: The twelve pollutants chosen for action by the Stockholm Convention have a long record of harm to the environment and people’s health. They have already been banned in some countries. There are several other substances that did not make the list, but may prove to just as harmful. The Stockholm Convention allows countries that have ratified the Convention to propose adding new substances to the list of those targeted for ultimate elimination.

2. Defining best techniques and technologies: In trying to dispose of pollutants identified under the Convention, countries that have ratified are obliged to use the best methods and technologies. What those “best available techniques and best environmental practices” might be are not yet defined.

• There are some immediate obligations for countries that have ratified. Perhaps the most important is that they have two years from the date that the Convention enters into force to develop an action plan on how to start getting rid of POPs. This can be done separately, or with other countries in a region.

• Under the action plan, each country must work out how much of each of the POPs identified it is currently releasing, and must review its laws and policies to see if they are up to the task of meeting obligations to reduce and eliminate those POPs.

• Every five years, each country must report on the effectiveness of its plan.

• In many countries, non-government organizations, such as environmental groups, or health organizations helped persuade their governments to take part in the Stockholm Convention, and also helped to provide information on POPs to the people of the country. The Convention recognizes that contribution, and encourages countries to provide opportunities for public participation at the national level in providing input on the implementation of the Convention.

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©heal toxics, 2003
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