Informed consent treaty for hazardous chemicals to become law

GENEVA, Switzerland, November 28, 2003 (ENS): Exporters of certain specified hazardous chemicals and pesticides will be legally bound to notify importing countries as of February 24, 2004 when an international agreement on trade in these substances takes effect.

On Thursday, Armenia became the 50th country to ratify the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, triggering the 90 day countdown to the treaty’s entry into force.

“Inappropriate pesticides and their misuse still threaten health and environment in developing countries,” said Jacques Diouf, director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“We recognize that, in meeting the increased demand for food production, pesticides will continue to be used. The Rotterdam Convention provides countries with a major tool to reduce the risks associated with pesticide use,” Diouf said.

The convention enables importing countries to decide which potentially hazardous chemicals they want to receive and to exclude those they cannot manage safely. Most of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention, so far, are developing countries.

When trade is permitted, requirements for labeling and providing information on the potential health and environmental effects is expected to promote safer use of chemicals.

There are a total of 31 chemicals currently subject to the interim PIC procedure. Among these chemicals are 21 pesticides, five industrial chemicals and five severely hazardous pesticide formulations. Many more substances are likely to be added in the future.

When the convention becomes legally binding 27 chemicals will be governed by its provisions. Five additional chemicals - dimefox, endosulfan, endrin, mevinphos and vinclozolin - have been proposed for inclusion on the PIC list.

Some pesticides covered by the convention, such as methyl parathion, are extremely hazardous and can present a severe threat to the health of farmers everywhere.

Methyl parathion is acutely toxic by all routes of exposure, and the pesticide is a known carcinogen. Human fatalities have been caused by ingestion, dermal adsorption, and inhalation of parathion. As with all organophosphates, parathion is readily absorbed through the skin.

In the United States, methyl parathion is approved only for use in uninhabited open fields where it breaks down due to sunlight. It is not approved for roach control in homes. When applied in homes it can retain its toxicity to the nervous system for years, and can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, cramps, weakness, blurred vision, difficulty breathing, muscle spasms, convulsions, coma and death in humans and domestic animals.

Under the convention, importing countries now will be supplied with scientific information about any of the listed chemicals proposed for import so they can make informed decisions about their use.

“Thanks to the Rotterdam Convention, we now have an effective system in place for avoiding many of the deadly mistakes made in past decades when people were less aware of the dangers of toxic chemicals,” said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“The convention, whose early entry into force was urged by the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg last year, will contribute to the WSSD’s aim of ensuring that, by the year 2020, chemicals are used and produced in ways that minimize significant adverse effects on human health and the environment,” he said.

Some 70,000 different chemicals are available on the market today, and around 1,500 new ones are introduced every year. Many pesticides that have been banned or restricted in industrialized countries are still marketed and used in developing countries.

Diouf said today, "This new regime offers its member governments, particularly in developing countries, the tools they need to protect their citizens, clean up obsolete stockpiles of pesticides and strengthen their chemicals management. Governments need to become members as quickly as possible so that they can reap these benefits and participate in shaping key decisions that must be taken next year."

The Rotterdam Convention covers 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. Since September 1998 five additional pesticides (binapacryl, toxaphene, ethylene oxide, ethylene dichloride and monocrotophos) have been added 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.

The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention will take place in Geneva in late 2004. At its first meeting the Parties will decide on including chemicals in the PIC list that have been added during the past several years to the interim PIC procedure,

The will establish a Chemical Review Committee that will evaluate future chemicals for the convention’s list, adopt the rules of procedure and address issues such as dispute settlement, compliance, financial rules, and arrangements for the permanent Secretariat.

“Implementation of the convention will help countries to control the availability of pesticides that are recognized to be harmful to human health and the environment and of highly toxic pesticides that cannot be handled safely by small farmers in developing countries," said Diouf.

The treaty promotes sustainable agriculture in a safer environment," he said, "thereby contributing to an increase in agricultural production and supporting the battle against hunger, disease and poverty."


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