Press releases

Thursday 01 Jul 1999

Russia, other CIS states to focus on management of past, future toxic problems at expert meetings

Nairobi/Geneva, 1 July 1999 - Russia and other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are recognizing that they face major hurdles in overcoming the legacy of inadequate management of toxic substances and instituting environmentally sound practices, and they are working with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Chemicals to deal with the situation.

In two separate meetings in July, experts from CIS and other countries, and a wide range of organizations will meet to focus on solutions for protection of public health and the environment from toxic risks. The first meeting will be held from 6 to 9 July 1999 near Moscow (Golitsino), Russian Federation, and will address technologies for treatment and destruction of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and obsolete pesticides. The second will take place 13-15 July 1999 in St. Petersburg, Russia, and will address approaches for collecting and disseminating data on toxic emissions to the air, water, and soil.

"Environmental degradation of the past continues to pose costs to society and ecosystems. Learning from that history to write new chapters in environmental protection gives a positive signal for people and our planet," said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP Executive Director. "I believe this programme of cooperation between CIS countries and UNEP will make a valuable contribution to our environment."

PCB releases are a serious threat to public health and the environment on an international scale. They cause a range of health effects, including cancer and damage to the central nervous system. Though countries have acted to ban production and regulate use, PCBs for many years found widespread application as coolants, sealants, fluids in electrical transformers and capacitors, and other purposes. As such products are handled and approach the end of their useful life, there is growing risk that accidental leaks and improper disposal may lead to pollution of the air, water, and soil.

Stockpiles of obsolete or unwanted pesticides also pose risks to public health and the environment in CIS and other countries. These chemicals were often poorly labeled and inappropriately disposed of; information on their location is frequently lacking.

PCBs and certain pesticides are among the initial list of persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, that are the focus of negotiations to reach a legally binding international instrument by the year 2000, in response to the mandate from the UNEP Governing Council. Persistent organic pollutants last for a long 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 and with age. They are also transferred in breast milk. The POPs pesticides on the list are: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene, and hexachlorobenzene, which is also an industrial chemical.

In response to such concerns, UNEP Chemicals is organizing these expert meetings jointly with the Centre for International Projects (CIP) of the State Committee of the Russian Federation on Environmental Protection together with the Russian Ministry of Health. The meetings are part of the UNEP Chemicals/Russia project, known as the CIP Project on Strengthening of National Chemicals Management in the CIS Countries. At the Moscow meeting, discussion of current problems and solutions involving PCBs and obsolete pesticides is intended to encourage the development of national action plans for safe management.

In St. Petersburg, experts will discuss the first steps toward establishing a system for collecting and disseminating data on toxic releases to the environment. Such a system is known as a Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR). In different forms, PRTRs are being adopted in countries around the world as an effective tool in monitoring the pollution burden on the environment. They can also provide a valuable source of information to communities, workers, and decision makers at all levels on actions that affect public health and the environment. Establishing PRTRs was recommended by the Earth Summit - the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

Significant strides are being made in establishing such registers in CIS countries. A CIP workshop held in March in Moscow laid the foundation for setting up PRTRs on a pilot basis in Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

Russia is establishing registers on a pilot region basis, starting with the Volgograd Region, and the first workshop took place in Volgograd in May. The second is the July workshop jointly organized by UNEP Chemicals, CIP, and the local authorities of the city of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Region. Similar activities are being initiated in Ekaterinburg, Kazan, and Perm.

******

Note to journalists: Additional information is available via the Internet at www.unep.ch/pops and www.chem.unep.ch/prtr.

For more information or to arrange interviews, 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 1999/78

Thursday 01 Jul 1999
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