Magazine article Science News

PIC and Choose - a Toxic-Imports Accord

Magazine article Science News

PIC and Choose - a Toxic-Imports Accord

Article excerpt

Last week, representatives of 62 nations signed onto a United Nations protocol to control the proliferating export of toxic chemicals to countries that have decided they cannot ensure safe use. Once ratified by 50 countries, this new convention--adopted in the Dutch city of Rotterdam--will become a binding treaty and make it illegal to export a listed chemical without an importing country's prior consent.

The accord requires that whenever a participating country bans or "seriously restricts" the use of a chemical, it must alert the convention's secretariat--its administrative body--and pass along data documenting the compound's toxicity. Once two such designations arrive for any chemical, the secretariat must add the agent to the list of compounds regulated by the convention.

Each country will receive details of a newly listed compound's toxicity and then have 9 months to decide whether to accept imports of the chemical. The secretariat will compile and publish a list of all unwilling recipient countries. This procedure is the heart of the new treaty, known as the Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC).

The secretariat has run a voluntary PIC program since 1989, in which 154 nations have participated. Their efforts led a PIC list of 27 chemicals, including chlordane, DDT, lindane, crocidolite asbestos, and polychlorinated biphenyls.

However, compliance has sometimes been a bit sketchy, notes Jim Willis, who works for the secretariat at the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) in Geneva. For instance, he notes, "not everyone provided the notifications that they were banning or restricting a chemical" or offered timely decisions on their willingness to accept certain imports.

Tougher, though still voluntary, procedures agreed to last week will remain in effect until the treaty becomes law. …

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