10 March 2003, Rome -- All forms of asbestos, the pesticides DNOC, parathion, a severely hazardous pesticide formulation that is a mixture of benomyl, thiram and carbofuran, and two highly toxic lead additives used in gasoline should be added to an international list of chemicals subject to trade controls.

This recommendation was made by a committee of government-appointed experts under the Rotterdam Convention

The recommendation to add five additional forms of asbestos to the PIC list (one is already listed) was triggered by bans to protect human health in Australia, Chile and the EU.

Once widely used as insulation for houses and specialized equipment, asbestos was eliminated in many countries when it became understood that its tiny fibres were being inhaled into the lungs of workers and residents. The fibres have the potential to cause cancer, other illnesses, and death.

Asbestos is still used in seals, gaskets, joints, brakes, armaments, and other applications, although cost-effective substitutes are increasingly available for many applications.

Severely hazardous pesticides

A new pesticide to be included in the PIC list is DNOC, an insecticide, weedkiller and fungicide. It is highly toxic to humans and also poses a high risk to other organisms. The review process was initiated by bans in Peru and the EU.

The review of the severely hazardous pesticide formulation was initiated by Senegal. The pesticide formulation contains a mixture of the fungicides benomyl and thiram and the highly toxic insecticide carbofuran and is locally sold under the name Granox TBC and Spinox T.

Suspicious of growing reports of illnesses and deaths, the government of Senegal started to map incidents of poisoning in rural areas. Its findings pointed the finger at Granox TBC/Spinox T, which is used in a powdered form by peanut farmers as a seed treatment. In developed countries seeds are often treated and planted mechanically, thus protecting farmers from contact.

In many developing countries, however, the farmer works without protective clothing and plants manually, in this case by biting on each nut to release the seed. The resulting close contact with the pesticide produced thousands of cases of poisoning featuring fevers, chest and abdominal pains, vomiting, insomnia - and a number of deaths.

The recommendations on these chemicals will be discussed by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, which meets in Geneva (17-21 November). If adopted, these chemicals will become subject to the Prior Informed Consent procedure.

The recommendation to add the remaining formulations of parathion to the interim PIC procedure (certain severely hazardous formulations of parathion are already listed) launches a process that will conclude in late 2004.

The Committee's review of the parathion was triggered by bans in the EU and Australia. Like other organosphosphorus insecticides, parathion poses an acute hazard to hundreds of thousands of farm workers, particularly in developing countries where the lack of protective clothing and appropriate application equipment makes it more likely that people will come in direct contact with pesticides. Effects of poisoning include nausea, diarrhea, blurred vision, and, in severe cases, respiratory depression, convulsions and death.

Additives in gasoline or petrol

The Committee has also launched the process for listing tetraethyl and tetramethyl lead, which are used as additives in gasoline or petrol. It has been known for many years that lead in petrol or gasoline is a serious health risk particularly to children.

Studies have demonstrated that children living near roads and in urban areas where leaded petrol is used, can suffer permanent brain damage, including lower intelligence scores.

This proposed action under the Rotterdam Convention is complementary to the recent decision of UNEP governing council on lead and with the recent Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development and its Plan of Implementation for leaded petrol. It calls for the rapid global phase out of this dangerous pollutant by 2005.

The Rotterdam Convention was adopted in 1998 under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and FAO as a response to increasing awareness of the health and environment risks associated with hazardous chemicals. In some cases, these chemicals are able to be used safely in developed countries, but not in developing countries, where access to protective equipment may be limited.

Rotterdam Convention

The Rotterdam Convention gives importing countries the tools and information they need to identify potentially hazardous chemicals and to exclude those they cannot manage safely. When trade is permitted, requirements for labelling and the provision of information on potential health and environmental effects promote the safe use of the chemicals.

While the Convention has not yet entered into force, in the interim, governments have agreed to apply the prior informed consent provisions of the Convention on a voluntary basis. 26 pesticides and 5 industrial chemicals(*) are subject to the interim PIC procedure. The chemicals described above represent additional new entries into the interim PIC procedure.

The interim PIC procedure covers the following 26 pesticides:

2,4,5-T, aldrin, binapacryl, captafol, chlordane, chlordimeform, chlorobenzilate, DDT, 1,2-dibromoethane (EDB), dieldrin, dinoseb, ethylene dichloride, ethylene oxide, fluoroacetamide, HCH, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, lindane, mercury compounds, pentachlorophenol, toxaphene, plus certain hazardous formulations of methamidophos, methyl-parathion, parathion, and phosphamidon When the text of the Rotterdam Convention was adopted it included also certain hazardous formulations of monocrotofos, since then all formulations of monocrotofos have become subject to the Interim PIC procedure.

It also covers five industrial chemicals: crocidolite, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), polychlorinated terphenyls (PCT) and tris (2,3 dibromopropyl) phosphate.

Contacts:

Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
erwin.northoff@fao.org
(+39) 06 570 53105

Michael Williams
Information Officer, UNEP
michael.williams@unep.ch
Geneva (+41) 22 9178 242/244/196