17 November 2003, Geneva/Rome
-- This week's meeting on the Rotterdam
Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for
certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International
Trade is to decide whether all forms of asbestos and two
hazardous pesticides should be added to an international list of
chemicals that are not to be exported unless the importing
country explicitly agrees.
In 2001, the
Convention's Interim Chemical Review Committee (ICRC)
recommended that the five remaining forms of asbestos - amosite,
actinolite, anthophyllite, tremolite and chrysotile - be added
to the interim prior informed consent procedure, or PIC list.
One - crocidolite - is already listed.
Committee's review of asbestos was triggered by bans in the
EU, Australia and Chile. Under the Convention a review is
initiated when two countries in two different regions ban or
severely restrict a chemical.
The tenth session of the
Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC 10), being held
from 17 - 21 November in Geneva, will consider whether to accept
this recommendation by the ICRC's technical and scientific
After the Convention enters into
force next year, governments would then need to formally
transfer asbestos and all other recent additions from the
interim and voluntary PIC list to the Convention's
The attractions of
asbestos include its high tensile strength, fibrous nature,
resistance to heat, and inert chemistry. 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 and causing 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 most
Review of severely
will also consider the pesticide DNOC, used as an insecticide,
weed-killer and fungicide. DNOC 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. Once widely used, DNOC and its salts (such as the
ammonium salt, potassium salt and sodium salt) have been
targeted for inclusion in the PIC procedure.
The third group of substances under consideration are
pesticides that are severely hazardous under conditions of use
in developing countries.
The PIC list
would apply to dustable powder formulations that contain a
mixture of pesticides: benomyl at or above 7 per cent,
carbofuran at or above 10 per cent and thiram at or above 15 per
These formulations were found to
cause severe problems in peanut cultivation in Senegal. In an
epidemiological study, 22 cases of poisoning were reported,
including five deaths. All 22 cases showed three or more
symptoms of pesticide poisoning.
About the Convention
Agreed in 1998 under the auspices of the United
Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Rotterdam Convention seeks
to help governments - particularly in the developing world -
prevent chemicals accidents and pollution.
With some 70 000 different chemicals available on the
market today, and 1 500 new ones being introduced every year,
many governments find it extremely difficult to monitor and
manage these potentially dangerous substances.
The Convention's goal is to protect millions of
farmers, workers, consumers and the environment from hazardous
chemicals. It is particularly concerned with the fact that many
substances that are banned or severely restricted in
industrialized countries are still being marketed and used in
provides a mechanism for countries to make informed decisions on
the future import of such chemicals and to ensure that exporting
countries respect the decisions of importing states.
The Rotterdam Convention will pursue its goal by
giving 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 providing information on potential health and
environmental effects promote the safe use of the chemicals.
The Convention also seeks to promote
technical assistance to developing countries. It is vital to the
success of the system that all countries succeed in developing
an infrastructure and capacity for managing chemicals and
The treaty covers a
starting list of 22 pesticides and five industrial chemicals,
including Aldrin, DDT, Dieldrin, HCH, Lindane, Mercury
compounds, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) and others.
Since September 1998, five additional
pesticides (binapacryl, toxaphene, ethylene oxide, ethylene
dichloride and monocrotophos) have been added to the interim PIC
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 5705 3105
22 9178 242/244/196