Press releases

Monday 22 Mar 1999

Asian, Pacific Countries Participate in UNEP Workshop on Managing Persistent Organic Pollutants

Hanoi, Vietnam, 22 March 1999 - Representatives from Asian and Pacific countries participated in a regional workshop here, conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to help countries manage persistent organic pollutants, or POPs.

The workshop, held in Hanoi from 16-19 March, highlighted progress in moving toward a legally binding global agreement on POPs; alternatives to use of these highly toxic chemicals in industry, agriculture, and disease vector control; and actions being taken at the national level on a range of issues. These included applying integrated pest management, managing unwanted stockpiles of pesticides, identifying and addressing releases of dioxins and furans, dealing with polychlorinated biphynels (PCBs), and pursuing alternatives to DDT for malaria control while fully protecting public health. The overall objectives are to reduce and/or eliminate releases of POPs into the environment.

"Addressing the dangers of persistent organic pollutants will give people living today and generations to come a more environmentally secure future, said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. "This UNEP workshop and those to follow will help countries identify alternatives to toxic chemicals and develop and carry out constructive programmes to stop harmful emissions and to safeguard human health and the environment."

For POPs pesticides replacements, one of the main topics was the need to maintain the susceptibility of vectors and pests to pesticides and to make greater use of integrated pest management and integrated vector management strategies in agriculture and public health protection. Pursuing and coordinating such strategies, the workshop concluded, would reduce reliance on toxic chemicals that pose a risk to ecology and human health and would decrease the development of pesticide resistance in pests and vectors. Integrated strategies make use of a combination of measures, such as biological and mechanical means, and draw on chemicals only to the extent deemed necessary. It was recommended that Governments be encouraged to ensure consistency and coherence in addressing POPs problems and that impact on biodiversity be a key criterion in the selection of pest and vector control components.

For PCBs, major problems are associated with identification, management, and environmentally sound disposal of PCBs and PCB-containing equipment. Pilot projects to evaluate management strategies and technological processes -- as were developed in some countries -- should be made available for broader application.

Workshop participants identified a need for baseline information on dioxin and furan contamination in the environment, foodstuffs, and humans. Inventories should be established and updated, and a monitoring program should be established in selected areas to determine future trends of POPs contamination in the region.

Widespread use of POPs in agriculture, industry, and vector control after World War II contributed to controlling pests, increasing food production, and making electricity more available, for example. However, growing evidence has confirmed that POPs are highly toxic, last for a long time in the environment, and travel long distances far from the source, such as the Arctic region. Releases can also cause damage close to the source. POPs are of particular concern because they build up in fatty tissues of living organisms, undergoing accumulation and biomagnification as they move up the food chain. They pose serious risks to human health and the environment, particularly for children.

The third round of negotiations to reach an international treaty to reduce and/or eliminate releases of POPs is scheduled to take place in Geneva in September. Countries are responding to the UNEP mandate which seeks to have a global agreement by the year 2000. The envisioned convention would deal initially with 12 specific POPs: aldrin, dieldrin, DDT, endrin, heptachlor, chlordane, mirex, toxaphene, polychlorinated biphenyls, hexachlorobenzene, and dioxins and furans. The treaty being negotiated also features criteria and a procedure for identifying other pollutants for inclusion. Earlier negotiating sessions took place in Montreal, Canada in June/July 1998 and Nairobi, Kenya in January 1999.

The workshop was organized by UNEP in co-operation with the Vietnam Government, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, and the National Environment Agency. Funding was provided by the Governments of Australia and Canada. Proceedings of the workshop are expected to be available shortly.

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Note to journalists: Official documents and other information are available via the Internet at
http://www.chem.unep.ch/pops/.

For more information please contact:
James B. Willis,
Director,
UNEP
Chemicals,
at tel: (+41-22) 917 81 83; fax: (+41-22) 797 34 60;
e-mail: chemicals @unep.ch

UNEP Information Note 1999/10

Monday 22 Mar 1999
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