States come to terms with "dirty dozen"

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A Swiss proposal to improve coordination in the fight against dangerous chemicals has failed to win enough support at an international conference in Geneva.

This content was published on May 6, 2006 - 10:13

But Swiss officials said there had been agreement on further steps aimed at ridding the world of hazardous pesticides and chemicals during the weeklong meeting, which ended on Friday.

The Swiss were hoping to convince other countries to appoint a single individual to take charge of the three secretariats dealing with chemicals, pesticides and hazardous waste. These administer the Rotterdam, Stockholm and Basel conventions respectively.

The meeting was the second conference of parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

The treaty, which came into force two years ago, regulates the use and production of a list of 12 highly toxic chemicals, known as the "dirty dozen". POPs remain intact in the environment for long periods and accumulate in living organisms.

However, a member of the Swiss delegation to the talks told swissinfo that no consensus could be reached on the Swiss proposal.

Georg Karlaganis of the Federal Environment Office said a working group would now re-examine ways of improving coordination and was expected to present its findings by 2009.


Karlaganis said there had been progress on agreeing further measures to curb dangerous chemicals, notably a decision to ban the use of DDT in agriculture.

Karlaganis said this followed "lengthy discussions involving countries where malaria is prevalent" since some governments use the pesticide to combat the killer disease.

Switzerland had feared that the rules would be watered down to permit the use of DDT in situations where effective alternatives exist.

Karlaganis said the delegations did approve a framework deal allowing for exemptions for DDT and the other eleven POPs, but agreed on very "stringent criteria". He said Switzerland did not demand any exemptions.

There was also heated debate over the adoption of standards to identify and quantify dioxins and furans, which are unintentional byproducts of waste incineration.


The standards were approved, but Karlaganis said it had been an uphill struggle against "reluctance" from countries such as India and Brazil where waste is commonly burned in the open.

There was also discussion on "effectiveness evaluation", one of the key issues because signatory states would have to implement a system to monitor the harmful chemicals.

The Swiss intend to start an evaluation programme to record levels of POPs in the environment, such as taking samples of air-borne particles and traces of harmful substances in breast milk.

Switzerland last week became the second industrialised nation to submit a national implementation plan in accordance with the Stockholm Convention. Switzerland has already complied with its obligations under the convention and has banned the sale and use of ten POPs.

The remaining two POPs on the list – dioxins and furans – cannot be prohibited.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The 12 chemical products that are subject to the Stockholm Convention:
Aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, hexachlorobenzene and toxaphene (pesticides).
dioxins and furans (industrial byproducts).
PCBs (industrial chemicals).
Leading candidates to be added to the list are:
Pentabromodiphenyl ether, chlordecone, hexabromobiphenyl, lindane and perfluorooctane sulfonate.

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In brief

The Rotterdam Convention covers the international trade in certain hazardous chemicals. It stipulates that the export of the most dangerous pesticides and chemicals can only be authorised with the "prior informed consent" (PIC) of the receiving country.

The Stockholm Convention aims to introduce a worldwide ban on the production and use of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which are harmful chemicals in the environment that build up through the food chain.

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is a comprehensive global environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes.

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