World ban for dirty dozen POPs

The international Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) has taken place banning the production, import, export, disposal, and use of the most toxic chemicals ever created.

Officials from 122 countries have adopted a treaty that will immediately ban 10 of the 12 most toxic POPs; the pesticides: aldrin; chlordane; dieldrin; endrin; heptachlor; mirex; and toxaphene; the industrial chemical hexachlorobenzene, which is also a pesticide; and two unwanted by-products of combustion and industrial processes: dioxins and furans. A health-related exemption has been granted for DDT, which is still needed in many countries to control malarial mosquitoes, permitting governments to use the chemical until able to replace it with a viable alternative. Similarly, in the case of PCBs, which have been widely used in electrical transformers and other equipment, governments may maintain existing equipment in a way that prevents leaks until 2025 to give them time to arrange for PCB-free replacements. Although PCBs are no longer produced, hundreds of thousands of tonnes are still in use in such equipment. In addition, a number of country-specific and time-limited exemptions have been agreed for other chemicals.

The signing of the convention on 22 and 23 May in Stockholm follows an agreement to ban the substances at a UN conference in December last year and will enter into force once ratified by 50 countries. Canada ratified the convention on 23 May while a series of other countries, including the 15 countries of the European Union, have committed to ratification as soon as possible. The EU has promised “adequate technical and financial assistance to developing countries and countries with economies in transition”, while the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has called for the convention to enter into force by 2004.

Governments are also to promote the best available technologies and practices for replacing existing POPs while preventing the development of new POPs and will draw up national legislation and develop action plans for carrying out their commitments. A POPs Review Committee will consider additional candidates for the POPs list on a regular basis ensuring that the treaty remains “dynamic and responsive to new scientific findings”.

The Canadian Arctic, lying thousands of kilometres from polluting sources, is one area particularly affected by the ‘grasshopper effect’, whereby POPs released in one part of the world are, through a repeated (and often seasonal) process of evaporation and deposit, transported through the atmosphere to regions far away from the original source. “This new global agreement on POPs is a key foreign policy achievement for Canada,” said the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley. “It addresses health and environmental threats to Canadians, particularly in the North, posed by the long range transboundary movement of these toxic chemicals.”

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