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New hazardous chemicals treaty gives major boost to global environmental protection, says UN Environment Programme

Rotterdam/Nairobi 10 September 1998 - The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) applauded today the international consensus on the need for a legally binding treaty to promote chemicals safety by preventing unwanted trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides.

Ministers and senior officials from some 100 countries are attending a two-day diplomatic conference in the Netherlands which includes a signing ceremony for the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade tomorrow morning (Friday).

"This agreement is a major addition to our tool kit for reducing the negative impacts of human activities on human health and the natural environment," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. "It establishes a 'first line of defence' for global chemicals safety and points the way to further actions to ensure that humanity reaps only benefits from the widespread use of chemicals."

Mr. Toepfer applauded the essential contribution of the Government of the Netherlands and its Environment Minister, Mr. Jan Pronk, to the successful conclusion of the treaty.

The next step on the global chemicals agenda will be to reduce and eliminate a number of so-called persistent organic pollutants, or POPs. Talks on an international POPs treaty are being sponsored by UNEP; the second round of negotiations will be held in February of next year.

In addition to chemicals, human health and the environment are exposed to other potentially hazardous substances. UNEP's 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal seeks to ensure that wastes containing arsenic, lead, mercury, asbestos, and dozens of other chemicals and substances are not exported to countries that lack the capacity to manage or dispose of them properly.

The international community has also accepted the need for minimizing the risks from transboundary movements of living modified organisms developed through modern biotechnology. Recognizing that biotechnology can bring both considerable benefits to human society and potential risks to the environment and human health, governments are to meet in February 1999 under the auspices of UNEP to finalize a Biosafety Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

"These international environmental agreements offer the greatest benefits to those developing countries that lack the infrastructure and resources for safely managing potentially hazardous chemicals, wastes, and living modified organisms," said Toepfer. "To ensure that these treaties are effective, developed countries must follow through with technology transfer, information sharing, and other support to help all countries participate actively in protecting their citizens and the global environments from unacceptable risks," he said.


Note to journalists: The meeting is being held at the World Trade Center in Rotterdam.
For further information contact:
Michael Williams (UNEP),,
Erwin Northoff (FAO) in Rotterdam on
tel. +31 10 405 4444.
Official documents and other information can be found on the Internet at
In Nairobi, contact Robert Bisset on
tel. +254 2 623084, fax. +254 2 623692,

UNEP News Release 1998/90

Friday 11 Sep 1998
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