Up to 15 hazardous chemicals and pesticides to be added to trade "watch list"
First Ministerial conference of Rotterdam Convention to be held in Geneva
16 September 2004, Geneva/Rome -- Ministers and officials from over 100 countries will mark the debut of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade at a high-level conference here from 20-24 September.
Pesticides and industrial chemicals have poisoned hundreds of thousands of people in recent decades and killed thousands as a result of accidents, misuse and inadequate controls and equipment. Meanwhile, every human being on Earth carries in his or her body traces of various hazardous chemicals, many of which have been linked to cancer, birth defects and other health problems.
The Rotterdam Convention through the Prior Informed Consent procedure, provides a further tool to assist developing countries to more effectively manage hazardous chemicals and pesticides. It prevents shipments of certain hazardous chemicals into their territory unless these have explicitly agreed to their import.
First line of defense
"The Rotterdam Convention will provide a first line of defense for human health and the environment against the potential dangers of hazardous chemicals and pesticides," said Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
"The winners created by this new convention will range from subsistence farmers to nursing mothers to wildlife. Another beneficiary will be the ambitious agenda for sustainable development and poverty alleviation set out two years ago this month in Johannesburg by the World Summit on Sustainable Development," he said.
"Chemicals are a necessary input if we are to meet the increasing demands for food production to feed the more than 800 million hungry people in the world," said Jacques Diouf, FAO Director-General.
"The current massive upsurge of locusts in West Africa shows that pesticides are still needed for emergency control activities to prevent crop losses. All efforts are being made to reduce the effects on people and the environment. The search for non-chemical locust control has proved promising but needs to be developed further for wide-scale use," he added.
"The Rotterdam Convention provides a means to better protect people living in rural areas by helping countries to learn from each other and to share experiences in the management of hazardous chemicals. The treaty allows for a more sustainable intensification of crop production supporting our battle against hunger and poverty," he said.
Jointly supported by FAO and UNEP, the Rotterdam Convention enables member countries to alert each other to possible risks. Whenever a government anywhere in the world takes an action to ban or severely restrict any chemical for health or environmental reasons, this action is reported to all member countries.
In addition, whenever a country bans or restricts a chemical or pesticide domestically but makes it available for export to another country, it must provide the importer with an export notification containing practical and detailed information about the chemical and the shipment.
But the heart of the Convention is the legally binding Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure. Any trade in an initial list of 22 pesticides and five industrial chemicals must first be agreed by the importing country.(1)
This gives developing countries in particular the power to decide which potentially hazardous chemicals or pesticides they want to receive and exclude those they cannot manage safely. When trade is permitted, requirements for labelling and providing information on potential health and environmental effects will promote the safer use of chemicals and pesticides.
Next week's Geneva meeting has three main tasks. The first is to take decisions on whether to add up to 15 new chemicals and pesticides to the list of substances subject to the Prior Informed Consent procedure. The list of candidates includes several forms of asbestos, two lead additives for gasoline and a range of highly toxic pesticides.(2) Adding new chemicals to the list will be a regular activity in the future.
The second task is to agree on a home for the Convention's permanent secretariat, which will be jointly provided by FAO and UNEP. The secretariat is currently located at FAO headquarters in Rome and at UNEP's Chemicals office in Geneva. The Governments of Italy and Switzerland have offered to maintain these arrangements. The Government of Germany has offered to host the secretariat in Bonn.
The third task facing the conference is to establish mechanisms and systems that will ensure the Convention's long-term effectiveness.
Some 70 000 different chemicals are available on the market today and around 1 500 new ones are introduced every year. This can pose a major challenge to many governments that must attempt to monitor and manage these potentially dangerous substances. Many pesticides that have been banned or whose use has been severely restricted in industrialized countries are still marketed and used in developing countries.
(1) The Convention's initial list includes the following 22 hazardous pesticides: 2,4,5-T, aldrin, captafol, chlordane, chlordimeform, chlorobenzilate, DDT, 1,2-dibromoethane (EDB), dieldrin, dinoseb, fluoroacetamide, HCH, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, lindane, mercury compounds, and pentachlorophenol, plus certain formulations of methamidophos, methyl-parathion, monocrotophos, parathion, and phosphamidon.
It also covers five industrial chemicals: crocidolite, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), polychlorinated terphenyls (PCT) and tris (2,3 dibromopropyl) phosphate.
(2) The 15 candidates for inclusion in the Convention are: binapacryl; toxaphene; ethylene dichloride; ethylene oxide; monocrotophos; DNOC and its salts; a severely hazardous pesticide formulation, dustable powder formulations containing a combination of benomyl at or above 7 per cent, carbofuran at or above 10 per cent and thiram at or above 15 per cent; actinolite asbestos; anthophyllite asbestos; amosite asbestos; tremolite asbestos; tetraethyl lead and tetramethyl lead; parathion; and chrysotile asbestos.
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 5705 3105
Information Officer, UNEP Geneva
(+41) 22 917 8242/8196/8244
(+41) 79 409 1528 (cell)
e-mail this article