Global Toxics Treaties: U.S Leadership Opportunity Slips Away-

By Schafer, Kristin S. | Foreign Policy in Focus, September 9, 2002 | Go to article overview

Global Toxics Treaties: U.S Leadership Opportunity Slips Away-


Schafer, Kristin S., Foreign Policy in Focus


Once again, the U.S. is squandering an opportunity for leadership in the international environmental policy arena. As the Bush administration continues to backtrack on environmental protection at home and abroad, these opportunities are increasingly few and far between. The issues at hand are global elimination of persistent chemicals and control of trade in toxics, and the opportunity is early ratification of two international treaties that effectively address these challenges: the Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions. Fast action from the White House and the Senate could still make a difference.

Many NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), including the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International and the International POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) Elimination Network (IPEN), called on nations around the world to bring these important treaties into effect before the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. Both treaties require fifty ratifications before implementation can begin. As of September 2002, 21 countries had ratified the Stockholm Convention, and 27 had ratified the Rotterdam Convention. The U.S. has yet to ratify either.

The chemicals addressed under the Stockholm Convention are persistent organic pollutants. These toxic substances currently are transported across the globe, persist in the environment, accumulate in the body fat of humans and animals, and concentrate up the food chain. Even at very low levels of exposure, POPs can cause reproductive and developmental disorders, damage to the immune and nervous systems, and a range of cancers. Exposure during key phases of fetal development can be particularly damaging, and infants around the world are born with an array of POPs already in their blood. POPs are found in today's U.S. food supply, even though many of the chemicals in question have been banned in the U.S. for decades.

The global nature of these pollutants led the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to sponsor extensive negotiations that culminated in the signing of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants on May 23, 2001, by 91 countries as well as the European Union. The treaty identifies an initial list of twelve POPs slated for elimination. Nine of the 12 (aldrin, endrin, dieldrin, chlordane, dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, and toxaphene) are pesticides that have been targeted for elimination by NGOs around the world since the early 1980s. The other chemicals on the convention's initial list are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and furans. The nine listed pesticides and PCBs have already been banned in the U.S., some--like DDT--for decades. The U.S. continues to produce dioxins and furans as byproducts of chlorine-based industries and waste incineration. …

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