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Experts agree to criteria, procedure for adding persistent organic pollutants to global POPs treaty

Vienna/Nairobi, 18 June 1999 - Scientific criteria and a procedural process for adding other persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, to the initial list of 12* identified for global action were agreed to by an expert group meeting in Vienna 14-18 June 1999.

The recommendations will be taken up by governments negotiating a legally binding international convention on POPs when they meet for the third round of talks 6-11 September 1999 in Geneva, Switzerland. The negotiations respond to a mandate from the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and an urgent need to protect human health and the environment from these dangerous chemicals.

"These proposals represent a major step forward in moving us to a global treaty that protects public health and the environment from POPs," said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP Executive Director. "Taking action against the initial list of 12 and establishing the means for combating others will give us a strong and ready defence against known and emerging toxic threats at the end of the 20th century and beyond," he said.

Persistent organic pollutants pose a serious risk to public health and the environment. They persist for long periods of time, traveling long distances from the source. They accumulate in living species, becoming increasingly concentrated in fatty tissue as they move up the food chain. These toxic contaminants are passed on to the next generation through breast milk. They are also found with increasing frequencies in a variety of food products with millions of people potentially exposed to dangerous levels.

The UNEP mandate calls for a legally binding international convention to reduce and/or eliminate releases and discharges of 12 specific POPs and for criteria and a procedure for identifying additional pollutants as candidates for inclusion in the treaty. The mandated deadline for reaching agreement is the year 2000.

The Criteria Expert Group, a subsidiary body established by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee working on the treaty, was originally expected to need three sessions to complete its work. Because of the importance of the issue, the experts, however, successfully accelerated their efforts, and general consensus on most points was quickly reached.

The Criteria Expert Group came to general agreement on proposed scientific criteria at its first meeting, in Bangkok, Thailand in October 1998. It reviewed them again in Vienna in light of the proposed procedure. The criteria encompass a series of technical factors that would trigger a chemical's being identified for consideration, such as toxicity and capability of long-range transport. The procedure covers the steps to be taken to determine whether a chemical is a sufficient risk to warrant global action. These include nomination, screening, and evaluation.

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* The 12 POPs on the initial list for global action under the treaty being drafted are: the pesticides aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, and toxaphene; the industrial chemicals polychlorinated biphenyls and hexachlorobenzene, which is also a pesticide; and the unintended by-products of combustion and industrial processes, dioxins and furans.

Official documents and other information on POPs are available via the Internet at www.chem.unep.ch/pops.

For additional 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;
or
Linda Durkee,
Policy and Communications Advisor,
UNEP Chemicals,
at tel: (+41 22) 917 85 11; fax: (+41 22) 797 34 60;
e-mail: ldurkee@unep.ch.

UNEP News Release 1999/72

Friday 18 Jun 1999
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