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UNEP executive director urges global action on dioxin and other POPs

Nairobi/Geneva, 11 June 1999 - Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), today warned that dioxin is a concern for all countries, not just Europe.

Reacting to the concern over dioxin-contaminated food in Europe, Toepfer reminded the world community of the health and environmental risks from dioxin and other persistent organic pollutants, known as POPs, to less developed countries, which typically lack data on sources and levels as well as the means for dealing with them.

"Action to deal with dioxin-contaminated food in Europe is necessary, but we should also be aware that dioxins in the ambient environment are a danger to humans and other living species throughout our planet, and global action is the best defence," Toepfer said in announcing a new UNEP report on available information on releases of POPs like dioxins and furans.

"Dioxins and other POPs are particularly troubling because they are passed from one generation to another in breast milk and particularly difficult to deal with because they are long lasting, travel long distances far from the source, and build up in fatty tissue," Toepfer said. "Strengthening the ability of developing countries to identify and reduce sources of dioxins and furans is strategically important to reducing ambient levels of dioxins in the air, water, and soil and so safeguarding public health and the environment everywhere."

The new UNEP report gives a snapshot of 15 national inventories, mostly in Western Europe and North America. Information is key in dealing with the two classes of compounds - polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDD/PCDF) - because they are unintended by-products of many industrial and combustion processes. Action depends on identifying sources and applying measures to reduce and, where possible, eliminate releases.

Countries are currently negotiating a legally binding international treaty to reduce and/or eliminate emissions of 12 specified POPs,* including dioxins and furans, and to establish scientific criteria and a procedure for adding POPs to the treaty, in response to the mandate issued by the UNEP Governing Council. The third round of talks takes place 6-11 September 1999 in Geneva, Switzerland. An expert group meeting on adding POPs to the future treaty is being held 14-18 June 1999 in Vienna, Austria.

"Building a global defence through a legally binding convention is vital for the protection of public health and the environment," Toepfer said. "Establishing criteria and a procedure for adding others to the original list of 12 will give us the arsenal with which to combat other dangerous contaminants and so safeguard communities and ecosystems around the world.

The Criteria Expert Group was established by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee working on the agreement to develop scientific criteria and a procedure for identifying additional POPs as candidates for possible inclusion.

At its first session 26-30 October 1998 in Bangkok, Thailand, the Criteria Expert Group reached agreement on proposed criteria. In Vienna, it will concentrate on procedures, discussing such issues as nomination of chemicals, screening, and evaluation. Its work will be submitted for consideration at the next round of talks in Geneva.


Note to journalists:

Copies of the report, Dioxin and Furan Inventories -- National and Regional Emissions of PCDD/PCDF, are available from UNEP Chemicals.

* There are 12 POPs on the initial list for action under the treaty being drafted: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, dioxin, endrin, furans, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, PCBs, and toxaphene. They fall into three categories: pesticides, industrial byproducts, and unintended by-products of combustion and industrial processes.

Official documents and other information on POPs are available via the Internet at

For additional information, contact James B. Willis,
UNEP Chemicals,
at tel: (+41 22) 917 8183; fax: (+41 22) 797 34 60;
Linda Durkee,
Policy and Communications Advisor, UNEP
at tel: (+41 22) 917 85 11; fax: (+41 22) 797 34 60;
e-mail: UNEP News Release 1999/69

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