Stockholm Convention on POPs becomes law

The Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) came into force this week, marking the start of an ambitious international effort to rid the world of a variety of toxic industrial chemicals and pesticides.

The Stockholm Convention came into force this week banning the use of a number of chemicals which can accumulate in the body fat of humans and animals. The problem is especially bad for Arctic people and animals such as the polar bear

The Stockholm Convention came into force this week banning the use of a number of chemicals which can accumulate in the body fat of humans and animals. The problem is especially bad for Arctic people and animals such as the polar bear

Its entry into international law was hastened after France signed the Convention in February this year (see related story) triggering a 90-day countdown for the treaty to become binding.

The treaty will ban or severely restrict 12 harmful chemicals, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and several pesticides. It also contains provisions to add additional chemicals in the future.

Chemicals on the list are toxic, resistant to normal breakdown processes, accumulate in the body fat of people and mammals, and can travel great distances on wind and water currents.

Klaus Toepfor, UNEP Executive said: "The Stockholm Convention will save lives and protect the natural environment - particularly in the poorest communities and countries - by banning the production and use of some of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind."

Governments will now seek a rapid start to action against POPs when they meet for the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP 1) in Uruguay, May 2005. They will be seeking to:

  • reduce or eliminate carcinogenic chemicals called dioxins and furans. This could prove expensive and technically challenging for some poorer developing countries;
  • assist countries in malarial regions to replace DDT with safe and effective alternatives. Until such time the Convention allows for certain governments to continue using DDT to protect citizens from malaria;
  • support efforts by each national government to develop am implementation plan using funds from the Global Environment Facility;
  • measure changes in the levels of POPs in the environment and in humans and animals to confirm the Convention is working;
  • establish a review committee for evaluating additional chemicals and pesticides to be added to the initial list of 12 POPs.
In addition, the treaty focuses on cleaning up the growing accumulation of unwanted and obsolete stockpiles of pesticides and toxic chemicals that contain POPs. Dump sites and toxic drums from the 1950s, '60s and '70s are now decaying and leaching chemicals in to the soil, poisoning water resources, the UNEP says.

Clifton Curtis, Director of WWF's Global Toxics Programme, said: "The Stockholm Convention is a shining example of how the international community can come together to address a serious environmental and health threat. Whales, polar bears, birds of prey and people throughout the world will benefit from this progressive new global regime."

The ratification of the Convention was particularly welcomed by the Inuit communities of the Arctic regions. "We're absolutely thrilled," said Sheila Watt-Cloutier, chairwoman of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, which represents 155,000 Inuit worldwide. "For us, it's not just an environmental issue, it's an issue of health."

Inuits have recorded some of the highest PCB levels in the world, up to ten times the levels found in southern Canada and has even been found in breast milk of Inuit mothers.

This is largely due to a process known as global distillation (see related story) whereby pollutants make their way to the poles via atmospheric streams, condense due to the far colder temperatures, and settle in high quantities in the snow, ice, soil and vegetation.

By David Hopkins



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