[GRRN] International Treaty Proposing to Eliminate Persistent Organic Pollutants

From: RecycleWorlds (anderson@msn.fullfeed.com)
Date: Sun Jul 16 2000 - 14:28:03 EDT

  • Next message: Neil Tangri: "Re: [GRRN] International Treaty Proposing to Eliminate Persistent Organic Pollutants"

        Does anyone have any other information that would flesh out these issues about the US
    bargaining position on eliminating POPS?


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    by Charlie Cray*
    The world is moving slowly toward a groundbreaking international
    treaty aimed at controlling or eliminating 12 Persistent Organic
    Pollutants (POPS), including 8 pesticides (DDT, aldrin,
    chlordane, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex and toxaphene),
    two industrial chemicals (hexachlorobenzene and polychlorinated
    biphenyls [PCBs]), and two industrial byproducts (dioxin and
    furans). See REHW #601. The treaty is scheduled to be signed in
    Stockholm in May of 2001. However, there is a fly in the
    ointment: the Clinton/Gore administration seems willing to
    derail the treaty if it doesn't get its way on many particulars,
    most of which reflect the chemical industry's agenda.
    The fourth session of the POPs Intergovernmental Negotiating
    Committee (INC-4) was held in Bonn March 20-25. INC-5 -- the
    final negotiation -- is planned for December in South
    POPs are chemicals which persist and bioaccumulate and therefore
    have the potential to harm human health and the environment. The
    initial twelve POPs are all chlorinated compounds. More
    chemicals are expected to be added to the list once the treaty
    is signed.
    POPs can be found almost everywhere on the planet, in all of our
    bodies and in much of our food.[3] In addition, because they
    spontaneously migrate towards the colder regions of the planet,
    POPs pose a critical threat to northern indigenous people, whose
    survival, health and well being depend on their traditional
    relationship with the ecosystem and the food it provides. Some
    of the most highly exposed populations are indigenous people
    living in polar regions far from major POPs sources. For
    example, the Inuit living on Baffin Island carry seven times as
    many PCBs in their bodies as people living in lower
    After four POPs negotiating meetings, much of the treaty text
    remains under negotiation. More than anything else, this
    reflects the fact that the U.S. and a handful of its allies --
    Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea -- have
    used the negotiations to protect polluting industries by
    insisting on loopholes and exemptions that would seriously
    weaken the treaty.[5] As one observer noted, these countries
    "have become a significant part of the problem, not the
    solution,"[5] pushing for treaty language that would not create
    any real obligations for industrialized nations while placing
    serious burdens on developing countries.
    The U.S. position was outlined in a U.S. State Department
    communique to the European Union, leaked to Greenpeace before
    INC-4, and it was evident in the negotiating stance of the U.S.
    delegation at INC-4[6]:
    1. Although the U.S. approves use of the word "elimination" in
    the treaty's preamble and objective, it wants such language
    removed from the text of the treaty, including the section
    addressing industrial by-products like dioxin.[7] By
    interpreting "elimination" to mean reduction to zero, the U.S.
    paints this as an unrealistic goal for dioxin. The European
    Union (EU) argues, in contrast, that "elimination" does not mean
    reduction to zero but instead means preventing dioxins from
    being formed in various human activities. This kind of "source
    elimination" would give priority to pollution prevention such as
    process and feedstock changes and materials substitution instead
    of managing dioxins after they have been created.
    Clearly, the U.S. position is predicated upon an outdated faith
    in pollution controls, including expensive high-temperature
    incineration. This capital-intensive approach to chemical
    management is impractical for most developing countries.
    Furthermore, industrial experience in the U.S. and elsewhere
    demonstrates beyond doubt that "state of the art" incinerators
    are, themselves, major sources of POPs.
    Further, the U.S. end-of-pipe approach cannot control dioxins
    produced during accidental fires and open-barrel burning of PVC
    plastics -- acknowledged by EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection
    Agency] as a major source of dioxins in the U.S. and likely an
    even greater source in developing nations where, for example,
    PVC is burned off electrical wiring to recover copper.8]
    Thus, because the U.S. chemical industry doesn't want to have to
    comply with any new pollution prevention mandates, the
    Clinton/Gore administration refuses to accept "materials
    substitution" language proposed by other countries as a strategy
    for avoiding POPs.
    All of this is consistent with the position of the U.S. EPA. EPA
    recently declared that the cancer hazard from dioxin exposure in
    U.S. citizens runs as high as 1 in 100.[9] Yet rather than
    advocating elimination of many known dioxin sources, EPA points
    to recently-declining levels of dioxin in humans and suggests
    that Americans should adopt a low-fat diet to reduce their
    dioxin exposure.
    Kip Howlett, executive director of the Chlorine Chemistry
    Council (CCC), recently gloated to CHEMICAL WEEK that the "EPA
    has told CCC that it would not impose dioxin emission
    regulations on the chlorine industry."[10] In effect, EPA has
    portrayed an issue of political power as a lifestyle issue,
    transferring responsibility away from dioxin's source in the
    chemical industry and putting it on innocent citizens. It is a
    classic tactic, "blame the victim."
    2. The U.S. has also proposed adding "where practical" to weaken
    specific parts of the treaty text, and has sponsored a whole
    slew of "general exemptions" -- loopholes that would undermine
    the goal of elimination. These exemptions would allow POPs to
    show up as low-level ("de minimus") contaminants in products,
    allow their use in "closed systems" (e.g., PCBs in electrical
    transformers), and as "on-site intermediates." Many people will
    be harmed if this U.S. language is adopted.
    3. The U.S. is pushing to weaken the force of the Precautionary
    Principle in the POPs treaty. (See REHW #586.) According to one
    observer at INC-4, the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan and Australia
    seem "determined to ignore the euphoria with the recent[ly]
    completed Biosafety Protocol...where the Precautionary Principle
    is in the text."[1,pg.13] The U.S. and its allies were again in
    the minority, advocating that the Precautionary Principle be
    placed only in the preamble, to diminish its legal force.
    The chemical industry strongly opposes placing the Precautionary
    Principle in the treaty's section on new chemicals being
    evaluated for possible addition to the POPs list. Since
    scientific certainty about damage from most chemicals is, and
    will remain, elusive, the Precautionary Principle is key when
    evaluating the weight of evidence.
    4. So far, the U.S. and its allies have opposed language that
    would impose financial obligations on rich nations to assist
    countries that could not otherwise afford to comply with the
    treaty. The leaked U.S. State Department communique suggests
    that the U.S. is willing to scuttle the entire treaty on this
    Many developing countries welcome a strong POPs treaty precisely
    because they believe it can strengthen their capacity to protect
    human health and their environment. It is well known, however,
    that many countries cannot eliminate POPs without significant
    external financial and/or technical assistance. Wealthier
    countries will have to provide much-needed resources.
    As United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) Executive
    Director Klaus Topfer stressed at INC-4, POPs are an example of
    exporting the disadvantages of economic growth to developing
    countries,[1,pg.2] which suffer from some of the most severe and
    widespread POPs contamination. The U.S. and other developed
    nations are obligated to provide assistance, not only because
    they can afford to, but because historically they exported POPs
    and POPs-generating technologies to developing countries in the
    first place. For instance, as part of the "green revolution,"
    chemical companies from the U.S. and Europe (with the assistance
    of U.S. and EU-dominated development banks and foundations)
    pressured developing nations to use DDT and other pesticides
    shortly after World War II. To this day, western-based
    multinational corporations continue to promote POPs-generating
    materials and technologies in developing nations (e.g., vinyl
    production facilities and chlorine-based paper production).
    U.S. citizens also have a self-interest in assisting developing
    nations because Americans' health and environment are injured by
    POPs that enter the environment in far off countries (especially
    the tropical regions of the world) and eventually make their way
    north. The pesticide circle of poison -- whereby pesticides that
    are banned in this country still reach us through the air or in
    our food -- is but one example.
    Nevertheless, the U.S. government strongly opposes treaty
    language that would allow the treaty's Conference of the Parties
    to impose financial obligations on industrialized nations.
    Likewise the U.S. opposes any new limits on the way
    transnational corporations can do business.
    Ultimately, financial obligations should be transferred to
    companies that make and use POPs. The "Polluter Pays" principle,
    if properly applied, would generate the necessary funds to help
    developing countries find alternatives to POPs (e.g., finding
    effective substitutes for DDT in combating malaria). Taxing
    specific industrial processes would ensure that polluters,
    rather than governments or average taxpayers, would bear the
    financial burden.
    At this point, it is unrealistic to expect the treaty to carry a
    "Polluter Pays" provision -- the delegates know that financial
    obligations have nearly scuttled previous international
    agreements. However, the proposed POPs treaty wouldn't stop
    anyone from enacting such a policy later.
    The good news is that there is still potential for a strong,
    effective POPs treaty. Many countries in the EU, Africa and Asia
    are angry about the U.S.'s position on many of these issues. Yet
    as the World Wildlife Fund (a treaty observer) says, "time is
    running out. Substantial intersessional deliberations -- among
    governments as well as political caucus groups -- are critical
    to ensuring that INC-5 concludes with a productive and
    successful outcome...[W]ithout a phase out and elimination goal
    for intentional and by-product POPs, the treaty threatens to
    misdirect our efforts and subject developing nations to the same
    mistakes industrialized countries have already made."
    The 10-month period between now and May 2001 will be a crucial
    time for the POPs negotiations, in which a groundbreaking
    environmental and public health treaty will be either won or
    lost. To keep up with the latest developments of the POPs treaty
    and figure out what you can do to build pressure for success,
    contact either the International POPs Elimination Network
    (www.ipen.org), visit the Stop POPs web site (www.stoppops.org),
    and/or come to Berkeley, California on August 10-13 for the 4th
    People's Dioxin Action Summit (see www.chej.org).
    *Charlie Cray is associate editor of the MULTINATIONAL MONITOR
    [1] EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLETIN Vol. 15, No. 34 (March 27,
    2000). Available at:
    [2] See http://www.ipen.org/.
    [3] See Michelle Allsopp and others, A RECIPE FOR DISASTER: A
    Greenpeace Research Laboratories, March 2000). ISBN
    90-73361-63-X. Available at www.greenpeace.org/~toxics/ under
    [4] Indigenous Environmental Network, "Indigenous Peoples and
    POPs" (Briefing paper for INC-4), February 2000; available at
    http://www.alphacdc.com/ien/pops_bonn_ien11.html. Also see "Drum
    Beat for Mother Earth: Persistent Organic Pollutants Threatening
    Indigenous Peoples," a video by the Indigenous Environmental
    Network and Greenpeace, 1999. Available from Greenpeace USA;
    phone 800-326-0959.
    [5] For more on the obstructive role of the US and its ally
    countries in POPs negotiations and other global treaties see:
    LAW MAKING (Greenpeace International. Feb. 2000). Available at
    www.greenpeace.org/~toxics under "reports."
    [6] U.S. Department of State, "U.S. Concern Over POPs
    Negotiations." A one-page undated memo circulated to various
    governments prior to INC-4.
    [7] For an in-depth discussion of strategies to eliminate dioxin
    and other POPs see Pat Costner, DIOXIN ELIMINATION: A GLOBAL
    IMPERATIVE (Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Greenpeace
    International, March, 2000). ISBN 90-73361-55-9. Available at
    www.greenpeace.org/~toxics under "reports."
    [EPA-600/R-97-134A] (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental
    Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, November
    1997). Available at www.epa.gov/ttn/catc/dir1/barlbrn1.pdf.
    [9] EPA's Dioxin Reassessment is available online at
    http://www.epa.gov/ncea/pdfs/dioxin/dioxreass.htm; key findings
    can be found at http://www.chej.org/
    [10] Neil Franz, "EPA Sets Course to Complete Dioxin
    Reassessment," CHEMICAL WEEK , June 21, 2000, pg. 18.
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    Peter Anderson
    RecycleWorlds Consulting
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