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.

The 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 experts.

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 legally-binding list.

Asbestos is still used

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 applications.

Review of severely hazardous pesticides

The meeting 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 cent.

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 developing countries.

The Convention 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 pesticides safely.

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 procedure.

Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 5705 3105

Michael Williams
Information Officer, UNEP
(+41) 22 9178 242/244/196