Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
 
 

 

What does the Convention do?

UN conference approves POPs convention in Stockholm

Press coverage

For more about POPs and the convention, visit the International POPs Elimination Network

Delegates from 127 countries formally voted approval of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants on 22 May 2001, in Stockholm, Sweden. After the vote, ministerial representatives of on behalf of their governments.

The Convention now returns to each government for ratification. 50 countries must ratify the treaty for it to become international law. It is expected that this will take approximately 5 years.

 

In a ceremony at the White House on 19 April 2001, George W. Bush voiced his support for ratification of the Convention by the U.S. Senate.

The Stockholm Convention commits nations that ratify the treaty to work toward of elimination of some of the world's most dangerous chemicals, immediately or as a long-term goal.

Speaking during the opening session at the meeting, Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson observed that "The prohibition and elimination of 12 of the most harmful chemicals is a first step toward controlling the absolutely most dangerous chemicals.'' He went on to argue "we have to go further. Dangerous substances must be replaced by harmless ones step by step. If there is the least suspicion that new chemicals have dangerous characteristics it is better to reject them.''

 

The initial chemicals targeted by the convention are widely acknowledged to be hazardous to human health and the environment, because of their toxicity, because they resist degradation and thus persist for decades or longer, because they become concentrated in living tissue, and because they are transported globally by atmospheric and oceanic currents, and other transport modes.

Each of the initial 12 chemicals targeted by the convention is a proven endocrine disrupting compound.

POPs have become ubiquitous contaminants of fish, dairy products, and other foods around the world. One or more POPs chemicals are detectable in virtually every living organism, and many people around the world now carry enough POPs in their body fat to raise concern about serious health problems, including reproductive and developmental problems, cancer and immune system disruption.

What happened in Stockholm?

The collection of nations formally participating under the auspices of the UN in the negotiation process (more...) first reached agreement on a few remaining disputes about language. These were text passages in the Convention that remained in dispute despite over 2 years negotiation.

The final debate was over what steps could be taken in the future to begin considering other chemicals as targets of the Convention, beyond the first twelve covered explicitly by the treaty. The US and its allies argued that no formal steps under the auspices of the Convention should be taken on this key issue until ratification is achieved. Specifically, the US opposed allowing the POPs Review Committee from gathering or evaluating data on potential new POPs chemicals until the Convention is ratified by at least 50 nations.

The European Union, in contrast, proposed that the process of information-gathering should begin as candidate chemicals are identified. The EU preferred this approach because it wished to speed up the process. Under the US's proposal (which was fronted by the G-77 nations after strong US lobbying behind the scenes), it is unlikely that any new chemicals will be included formally and thus identified for banning for at least a decade.

In the final moments of debate, faced with the choice of losing key elements of the treaty that defined the general process of including new chemicals or backing down on their position about timing, the EU agreed to the US proposal

Throughout the entire negotiations, the EU proved far more progressive and precautionary in its negotiating positions than did the United States. This final concession, forced by the US, consigns the treaty to focusing on old chemicals that lack, to a large degree, any strong economic constituency because for the most part the targeted chemicals are already banned or heavily regulated in the developed world. The treaty is still immensely valuable, especially because of the economic assistance it will bring to developing countries attempting to manage hazardous chemicals, but it could, and should, have been far more supportive of public health.

The agreement reached on these points resolved the last remaining disputes about specific language within the Convention. Afterward, ministerial representatives from participating governments signed the Convention on behalf of their governments. EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman represented the United States.

 

What does the Convention do?

  • It bans outright 8 pesticides - aldrin, endrin, dieldrin, chlordane, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, and toxaphene. The bans will take effect as soon as the new treaty enters into force, which is expected within 5 years.
  • It establishes a long-term goal of eliminating DDT use but permits public health exceptions for its use in mosquito control to fight malaria. Developing countries without alternatives will continue to use DDT against malaria, until effective, and affordable alternatives are available to them.
  • It immediately prohibits PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) production and mandates a phase-out of ongoing uses over time. With a goal of complete PCB phaseout by 2025, the treaty calls on countries to make determined efforts to remove from use all PCB-containing electrical transformers and other equipment.
  • It promotes concerted action to minimize the release of industrial by-product POPs like dioxins. The treaty states that the aim of these actions is the ultimate elimination of by-product POPs where feasible.
  • It emphasizes preventive measures to address POPs at their source. The treaty encourages national regulations to prevent development of new chemicals with POPs characteristics, and promotes changes in industrial materials, processes, and products that can create POPs.
  • It establishes the means and mechanisms to assist developing counties eliminate POPs. The agreement will channel funds and technical assistance from developed countries to their less developed partners, thus enabling these countries to take effective action under the treaty.
  • It takes a precautionary approach for identifying and acting against chemicals with POPs characteristics. This involves establishment of a scientific "POPs Review Committee" to evaluate additional chemicals - based on the criteria of toxicity, persistence, bioaccumulation, and long-range transport - for inclusion in the treaty. Acknowledging the need for precaution, it states that "lack of full scientific certainty shall not prevent" a POP from being included. On the other hand, as noted above, US lobbying delayed the work of the POPs Review Committee until the treaty comes into force with ratification by 50 countries.

 

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