Re: [GRRN] International Treaty Proposing to Eliminate Persistent Organic Pollutants

From: Neil Tangri (
Date: Mon Jul 17 2000 - 10:18:00 EDT

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    I recommend contacting Karen Perry <> who is the secretariat
    for the International POPs Elimination Network, an international group of
    NGOs very active in the negotiation of the treaty. She's very on top of the
    US position and can plug you into what's happening around it.


    At 13:28 07/16/2000 -0500, RecycleWorlds wrote:
    > Does anyone have any other information that would flesh out these
    issues about the US
    >bargaining position on eliminating POPS?
    > Peter
    >=======================Electronic Edition========================
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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
    >(, visit the Stop POPs web site (,
    >and/or come to Berkeley, California on August 10-13 for the 4th
    >People's Dioxin Action Summit (see
    >*Charlie Cray is associate editor of the MULTINATIONAL MONITOR
    >[1] EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLETIN Vol. 15, No. 34 (March 27,
    >2000). Available at:
    >[2] See
    >[3] See Michelle Allsopp and others, A RECIPE FOR DISASTER: A
    >Greenpeace Research Laboratories, March 2000). ISBN
    >90-73361-63-X. Available at under
    >[4] Indigenous Environmental Network, "Indigenous Peoples and
    >POPs" (Briefing paper for INC-4), February 2000; available at
    > 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
    > 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
    > under "reports."
    >[EPA-600/R-97-134A] (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental
    >Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, November
    >1997). Available at
    >[9] EPA's Dioxin Reassessment is available online at
    >; key findings
    >can be found at
    >[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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    >Madison, WI 53705-4964
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