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Convention on trade in dangerous chemicals and pesticides: Round of workshops started

Bangkok/Nairobi, 10 December 1998 - Delegates from some 20 countries from the Asian region are attending a Regional Awareness Raising Workshop on the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure on international trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides.

The new Convention limits the trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides such as PCBs, Lindane, Aldrin, Dieldrin and harmful pesticide formulations including substances such as Monocrotophos and Parathion.

The trade in extremely hazardous chemicals and pesticides has become subject to the interim Prior Informed Consent procedure (PIC) in which 154 countries are participating. Under PIC, 22 harmful pesticides and five industrial chemicals* that have been banned or severely restricted in a number of countries should not be exported unless agreed by the importing country.

The Convention, adopted in September 1998 in Rotterdam by 101 countries, is being implemented on a voluntary basis until its entry into force. The Interim Secretariat is jointly provided by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This is the first workshop to inform national authorities in detail about the obligations.

Countries agreed that substances previously subject to a voluntary PIC procedure will be included in the Convention. The Convention will legally require exporters to notify recipient countries of exports of hazardous substances subject to national bans or severe restrictions. It is expected that additional industrial chemicals and pesticides will be added to the PIC procedure. The chemicals-exporting countries in the Asian region will have to comply with the import decisions, and violators can be fined.

Many chemicals and pesticides are harmful to humans, domestic animals and ecosystems. They may cause cancer or birth defects, or enter the food chain and accumulate in the tissues of people or animals. Chemicals such as asbestos which is still exported around the world, are now known to be carcinogenic.

According to UNEP, the past use and trade of these chemicals have left a legacy of lasting problems. Several PIC substances whose use has been banned and phased out in industrialized countries are still widely used in developing countries and in countries with economies in transition. DDT continues to be released into the environment where it poisons wildlife.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are highly toxic to humans and are found in the blood and tissue samples of people thousands of kilometres from where these chemicals were released. Every day scientists discover previously unknown dangers posed by certain chemicals. A PIC treaty is thus vital for reducing the risk to the world's health and environment.

FAO warned that many pesticides, such as DDT, chlordane and heptachlor, which have been banned or whose use has been severely restricted in Europe and North America, are still marketed and used in Asian countries. Also, many old, often highly toxic, organophosphorus pesticide formulations continue to be used there because of their low price.

The global market for pesticides continues to grow and is estimated at $33 billion for 1998. Companies based in Asia are actively participating in this growing market. The fastest growing markets are in developing countries, particularly in Latin America and Asia. Africa is increasingly using pesticides on export crops.

"Many countries in the Asian region have reported acute poisoning because highly toxic pesticide formulations cannot be handled safely", Niek Van der Graaff, FAO said. Protective clothing is often too expensive and, in many cases, cannot be used due to the climate in these countries. In order to reduce the risks caused by pesticides, FAO assists developing countries in reducing pesticide use through Integrated Pest Management.

Studies on the application of organophosphates have demonstrated, for example, that during normal spraying, farmers are exposed to contamination by absorption of residues on clothing through the skin. In China alone, 27 provinces in 1995 reported a total of 48,377 poisoning cases, including 3,204 fatalities. More than 7,500 of these cases were mostly attributed to normal agricultural use of parathion and methamidophos. Poisoning from parathion occurs even in industrialized countries despite stringent protection.

"The new Convention promises to create a first line of defence against chemicals risks by empowering governments with the information and procedures they need to monitor and control cross-border trade", said Jim Willis, Director of UNEP Chemicals. "But because trade is just one avenue for the spread of highly dangerous substances, we must build on this success through further agreements to prevent dangerous chemicals like persistent organic pollutants (POPs) from being released into the environment where they pose a threat to people and to wildlife."

"The PIC Convention will help protect farmers in developing countries from exposure to highly toxic pesticides. Nevertheless, at national level further measures are required to use pesticides safely and in a rational manner. The challenge for world agriculture is to produce more food with less pesticides, in a sustainable way," said Mr. Dong, Deputy Regional Representative, FAO.

This regional workshop is being held at the FAO office in Bangkok and will end on 11 December.




*The PIC list includes the following 22 hazardous pesticides:
2,4,5-T, Aldrin, Captafol, Chlordane, Chlordimeform, Chlorobenzilate, DDT, Dieldrin, Dinoseb, 1,2-dibromoethane (EDB), Fluoroacetamide, HCH, Heptachlor, Hexachlorobenzene, Lindane, Mercury compounds, certain formulations of Monocrotophos, Methamidophos, Phosphamidon, Methyl-parathion, Parathion.

The industrial chemicals are:
Crocidolite, Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBB), Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB), Polychlorinated Terphenyls (PCT), Tris (2,3 dibromopropyl) phosphate.

UNEP News Release 1998/130

For more information, please contact:
Jim Willis in Geneva on
tel: +41-22-917-8170, fax: +41-22-797-3460,

in Bangkok contact:
UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific on
tel. +66-2-829161 fax: +66-2-280- 3829,

In Nairobi:
Tore J. Brevik,
Director of Information and Public Affairs,
P.O. Box 30552,
Tel.: (254) 2-623292, Fax 62-3692.

Friday 11 Dec 1998
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