World gathers in Stockholm to adopt POPs treaty

Countries invited to sign convention aimed at phasing-out "most dangerous" chemicals on the planet

Officials from 120 countries and a host of environmental and civil society groups have gathered in Sweden to celebrate the adoption of a convention that will restrict production, use and exposure to a group of chemicals the UN has labelled the "most dangerous" in the world. The convention will enter into force once ratified by 50 countries.

International negotiations aimed at developing global rules on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) began three years ago and agreement was reached six months ago (ENDS Daily 11 December 2000). The convention's central goals are phase-out for 12 named POPs plus regular reviews to determine whether other substances should join them.

With opening of the treaty for signature, attention is now shifting to how quickly it will enter into force and how to fund implementation in developing countries. Klaus Töpfer, executive directive of the UN environment programme (UNEP), has called for entry into force by 2004. Environmental group WWF wants a more ambitious deadline of September next year, in time for the Rio+10 world sustainable development summit.

Early signs for entry into force are promising, with Canada taking an unprecedented lead by promising not only signature but also ratification of the convention tomorrow. A series of other countries have committed to ratification as soon as possible, including the EU.

POPs have been singled out for international control because of the risks they pose to humans and wildlife. The 12 substances already earmarked for phase-outs are known to cause cancer, damage reproductive and immune systems and lead to birth defects. They are: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex and toxaphene (pesticides), PCBs and hexachlorobenzene (industrial chemicals) and dioxins and furans (combustion byproducts).

Follow Up:
UNEP Chemicals, tel: +41 22 917 8193, POPs web pages, and the convention in full. See also response statements from the European Commission, the International Council of Chemical Associations, and Greenpeace International.

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