Experts agree target to eliminate toxics

Oslo and Paris Commission group proposes 2020 phase-out for discharges to marine environment

Government experts have moved a step closer to forging a regional agreement to eliminate hazardous substances that pollute the European marine environment. They proposed a draft objective and strategy to move towards "cessation of discharges, emissions and losses of hazardous substances by the year 2020".

An expert committee of the Oslo and Paris (Ospar) Commission concluded the deal at a week-long meeting in The Hague, Netherlands. Ospar was set up to reduce pollution of the north-east Atlantic from activities at sea and from land-based sources; its membership spans 16 countries including most EU states. The agreement will be submitted to environment ministers from Ospar countries for adoption at a meeting in September.

This week's meeting has produced two draft objectives on hazardous substances for ministers to discuss in September. The first calls for emission and discharge levels to be reduced to "levels that are not harmful to man or nature" by 2000, echoing an agreement already made by Ospar ministers in 1992. However, a clause calling for particular attention to organohalogens has been removed.

The second draft objective moves the process a step further by binding member countries "to make every endeavour" to cease emissions, discharges and losses of hazardous substances by 2020. Environment ministers agreed in principle to this objective at the Fourth North Sea Conference in 1995.

Denmark and the Netherlands were particularly strong proponents of the approach, and called for a target of "zero emissions" of man-made substances, in a bid to force quicker development of clean technologies. They were opposed by the UK, which argued for a less "purist", risk assessment-based approach. The UK said that it shared the "ideal" of these aims, but did not accept that they were "currently practicable". The UK maintains this reservation in the text agreed today.

Officials also reached agreement on definitions of hazardous substances. These have been split into three categories: The first covers substances that are persistent, toxic and bioaccumulative. The second includes substances that the commission considers "require the same approach" as those in the first category, even if they possess none of the three properties. This category is particularly intended to give scope for action on hormone-disrupting chemicals. A third category covers substances that degrade or transform in the environment to form any of those listed in the other categories.

Follow Up:
Ospar Commission, tel: +44 171 242 9927.

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