Nations to draft treaty to phase out persistent pollutants.

Abstract

The first step in what could lead to an international phaseout of a dozen "persistent organic pollutants" (POPs) was taken Nov. 1 by delegates to a United Nations conference on marine pollution in Washington, DC. Some 102 governments attended the twoweek conference and agreed to move ahead over the next few years to develop a treaty to address marine pollution resulting from POPs and pesticides as well as sewage, fertilizers, sediments, litter, and habitat destruction. Much of the debate at the UN Environment Programme conference focused on 12 POPs, including polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, DDT, heptachlor, chlordane, and other pesticides. Pressure for a legally binding treaty to prohibit use and production of these substances came from North Atlantic countries, led by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. These countries have become increasingly concerned about the long-range transport of POPs by wind and water and their tendency to gather in the cooler northern latitudes and work their way up the food chain {ES&T, August 1995, 357A). The agreement was endorsed by representatives of organizations as diverse as Greenpeace, EPA, and the State Department, who noted that 80% of marine pollution originates on land. Called the Washington Declaration, the agreement came in two parts: a nonbinding plan to encourage countries to cut landbased marine pollution, and an agreement to work for a binding treaty for "the reduction and/or elimination of emissions, discharges and, where appropriate, the elimination of the manufacture and use" of POPs. Of special importance to the conference were provisions added to address developing countries' concerns that DDT and other pesticides will be phased out before cheap and effective alternatives are found, according to Robert Dekker, chief of the International Water Policy Division of the Netherlands Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management. "Consequently the agreement requires an assessment of substitutes before phasing out any chemical," he said. "This was a major part of negotiations and was needed to get developing countries on board." For the developed world, especially northern European countries, the agreement's provisions on toxic chemicals were of most importance, Dekker said. Pressure for a phaseout has grown from meetings held over the past few years, he said. Most recently, at the June North Sea Conference the countries that ring the North Sea agreed to a goal of "zero discharge" for hazardous substances within one generation or 25 years {ES&T, Sept. 1995, 404A). Dekker compared the Washington Declaration with the Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987, which eventually led to the elimination of chlorofluorocarbon production. But many steps are yet to come, he said. Late this year a UN working group will take up the agreement at a meeting in Canberra, Australia, to be followed by negotiations by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in May 1996. The UN General Assembly will discuss the contents of a treaty at its meeting next September. Dekker predicted three or four years will pass before a formal treaty is negotiated. Meanwhile, he said, individual nations may move ahead on voluntary aspects of the agreement. Many of the 12 toxic substances are restricted or controlled in the developed world—for instance, the United States bans or limits their use and emissions. However, federal officials who took part in the negotiations said some U.S. companies, such as Velsicol Chemical Co., continue to manufacture heptachlor and chlordane for export. Learning what companies make these pesticides, what countries use them, and what substitutes are available will be important but difficult and time consuming, Dekker predicted. —JEFF JOHNSON

DOI: 10.1021/es00012a732

Cite this paper

@article{Johnson1995NationsTD, title={Nations to draft treaty to phase out persistent pollutants.}, author={Johnson Johnson}, journal={Environmental science & technology}, year={1995}, volume={29 12}, pages={546A} }