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UNEP executive director Klaus Toepfer advocates full protection of public health while phasing out DDT

Nairobi/Geneva, 1 September, 1999 - With negotiations on a global treaty on persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, set to resume 6 -11 September 1999 in Geneva, Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), today expressed support for full protection of public health during any phaseout of the persistent pesticide DDT.

Reacting to press reports on the debate over DDT, Toepfer said, "UNEP shares, with the World Health Organization and others, a clear and paramount interest in safeguarding human lives from malaria and other vector-borne diseases, and believes DDT is and will be a tool against these serious illnesses for some time as countries build the capacity to use an array of alternatives, including non-chemical ones, in comprehensive strategies."

"I am convinced the wisdom of the countries engaged in these negotiations will prevail, and they will find the way forward to continue to advance successful strategies to effectively control and reduce malaria while safeguarding both public health and the environment from this chemical. We are talking about fewer cases of vector-borne diseases and lower use of DDT, which will be a win-win situation," Toepfer said.

Approximately 110 countries are participating in the third round of talks to establish an international legally binding treaty to reduce and/or eliminate emissions of POPs into the environment. Participation also includes approximately 10 intergovernmental organizations and more than 70 non-governmental organizations.

High on the agenda of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) are the control measures and deadlines for action on the 12 POPs listed in the mandate from the UNEP Governing Council. In addition to DDT are the pesticides--aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, and toxaphene; the industrial chemicals--polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and hexachlorobenzene, which is also a pesticide; and the unintended by-products of combustion and industrial processes--dioxins and furans.

"Now is the time to develop a framework for clear control measures on these persistent organic pollutants -- the so-called dirty dozen," said Toepfer. "They are the most toxic pollutants ever invented, and we must move into the next millennium by securing a global agreement that ensures environmental and public health protection for people living today and generations to come."

POPs pose a serious risk to public health and the environment. They last for a long time, traveling long distances from the source. They accumulate in living species, becoming increasingly concentrated and magnified in fatty tissue as they move up the food chain and with time. They can be passed onto the next generation in the womb during pregnancy and through breast milk. POPs are also being found with increasing frequency in a variety of food products with millions of people potentially exposed to dangerous levels, as was the case recently in Europe with food products contaminated with dioxins and PCBs.

The UNEP mandate, which sets a year 2000 deadline for reaching agreement on a POPs convention, also calls for scientific criteria and a procedure for identifying additional pollutants as candidates for international action. The talks will take up recommendations made in Vienna in June 1999 at the second meeting of the Criteria Expert Group, a subsidiary body established by the first session of the INC.

The recommended criteria encompass technical factors that would trigger a chemical's being identified for consideration, such as persistence, bioaccumulation, capability of long-range transport, and toxicity. The procedure detailed in the expert group report involves steps for determining whether a chemical is a sufficient risk to warrant global action.

Another top issue for INC consideration is technical and financial assistance for implementing a POPs treaty, particularly for developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

During the week of the INC, a number of governments will receive recognition for their 1999 contributions to the POPs Club, the innovative funding mechanism for the negotiations. These are: Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, Madagascar, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The Geneva meeting is formally known as the Third Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-3) for an International Legally Binding Instrument for Implementing International Action on Persistent Organic Pollutants. It will build on the foundation for a treaty laid at the First Session (INC-1) held in Montreal, Canada from 29 June to 2 July 1998, and the Second Session (INC-2) held in Nairobi 25-29 January 1999.

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Note to journalists: Office documents and other information on POPs are available on the Internet (http://www.chem.unep.ch/pops).

For more information or to arrange interviews,
Linda Durkee,
Policy and Communications Advisor,
UNEP Chemicals, at
tel: (+41 22) 917 85 11; fax: (+41 22) 797 34 60;
email: ldurkee@unep.ch.

INC-3 is being held at the International Conference Centre of Geneva, rue de Varembé 15, Geneva; tel: (+41 22) 791-9111.

In Nairobi, contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman and Director of Communications and Public Information on
tel: (+254-2) 623292, fax: 623692,
email: tore.brevik@unep.org ,
or
Robert Bisset,
Office of the UNEP Spokesman on
tel: (+254-2-623084),
email: robert.bisset@unep.org

UNEP News Release 1999/96

Wednesday 01 Sep 1999
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