Posted in: Press: Politics
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) will make its debut on the world stage in Punta del Este, Uruguay from 2-6 May at a meeting of 800 government officials and observers committed to ridding the world of some of the most dangerous chemicals ever created.
The Convention, which entered into force on 17 May 2004, targets 12 hazardous pesticides and industrial chemicals that can kill people, damage the nervous and immune systems, cause cancer and reproductive disorders and interfere with normal infant and child development.
“The Stockholm Convention will save lives and protect the natural environment; particularly in the poorest communities and countries,” said Executive Director Klaus Toepfer of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), under whose auspices the Convention was adopted in 2001.
“Eliminating POPs, however, will cost billions of dollars and require countries to adopt new methods and technologies to replace these toxic substances. The hard work has only just begun,” he said.
The main challenges to meeting the Convention’s goal are:
- Minimizing and eliminating releases of dioxins and furans. Reducing these unwanted by-products of combustion and industrial processes will require expensive and innovative new technologies and processes. It will also involve educating people not to burn garbage and other materials in open fires. In Punta del Este, officials aim to advance these efforts with Guidelines on Best Available Techniques and Environmental Practices for preventing or reducing the formation of dioxins and furans.
- Phasing out DDT without undermining the fight against malaria. Until safe, affordable and effective alternatives are in place, governments can continue using DDT to protect their citizens from malaria – a major killer in many tropical regions. The conference will evaluate the continued need for DDT and consider next steps
- Developing alternative for combating termites. These tiny pests cause billions of dollars in economic damage and are particularly difficult to control. The meeting will consider prodecures for handling future requests by governments for exemptions enabling them to continue using three POPs termiticides. It will also evaluate initiatives to reduce and eliminate completely the need for these chemicals.
- Cleaning up old PCBs from aging and widely dispersed equipment. PCBs have been used in electrical transformers and other equipment for decades. They must be eliminated and replaced over the next 20 years. Most developing countries, however, currently lack the facilities, funds and expertise to do so.
Fortunately, these challenges (which are described in greater detail in the articles below) can all be met through win-win solutions that reconcile eventual elimination with immediate human needs. By signalling to governments and industry that certain chemicals have no future while respecting their legitimate short-term concerns, the Convention aims to stimulate the development of new, affordable and effective alternatives to the world’s most dangerous POPs.
The 12 POPs covered by the Convention include nine pesticides (aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex and toxaphene); two industrial chemicals (PCBs as well as hexachlorobenzene, also used as a pesticide); and unintentional by-products, most importantly dioxins and furans. One of the conference’s key tasks is to establish a process for evaluating future candidates for adding to this initial list.
The conference will also consider adopting or endorsing the guidelines on managing POPs wastes that were adopted last year by the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movements of Hazardous and Other Wastes. Still another task is to provide guidance to the Global Environment Facility, which serves for the time being as the ‘financial mechanism’ that funds national projects and activities for implementing the Convention.
Some 130 countries are expected to participate in the Punta del Este meeting, which is known formally as the First Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP 1).
While the risk level varies from POP to POP, these chemicals all share four properties: they are highly toxic; they are stable and persistent, lasting for years or decades before degrading into less dangerous forms; they evaporate and travel long distances through the air and through water; and they accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife.
Every human in the world carries traces of POPs in his or her body. POPs circulate globally through a process known as the “grasshopper effect”. POPs released in one part of the world can, through a repeated process of evaporation and deposit, be transported through the atmosphere to regions far away from the original source.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to POPs. The problem has been that high costs, a lack of public awareness, and the absence of appropriate infrastructure and technology have often prevented their adoption. Solutions must be tailored to the specific properties and uses of each chemical and to each country’s climatic and socio-economic conditions.
Original press release: Governments Meet to Launch Global Campaign to Eliminate 12 Most Hazardous Chemicals (UNEP)