From: Sam Cage, Associated Press
Published September 21, 2004 12:00 AM

Trade in a Further 15 Hazardous Chemicals Could Be Restricted, U.N. Says

GENEVA — Up to 15 hazardous chemicals, including several forms of asbestos, could be added this week to a list which restricts the trade of dangerous substances, U.N. officials said.


Among other possible additions are two lead additives for gasoline and several highly toxic pesticides, the United Nations environment and food agencies said.


A decision will be taken at the first ministerial meeting of the Rotterdam Convention — a treaty which came into force in February — in Geneva this week.


"The Rotterdam Convention will provide a first line of defense for human health and the environment against the potential dangers of hazardous chemicals and pesticides," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. "The winners created by this new convention will range from subsistence farmers to nursing mothers to wildlife."


The Rotterdam Convention was negotiated in 1998 to give a quick, easy way for nations, especially developing ones, to assess the hazards of chemicals and pesticides and decide whether to permit their import. The United States has signed the treaty but has yet to ratify it.


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The convention provides a list of 27 chemicals — including DDT, Lindane, and mercury compounds — that exporters cannot sell internationally without the express permission of the importing country.


Individual countries can still export and import those substances, but the convention acts as an information exchange to make clear which of the 70,000 chemicals available on the market are considered dangerous.


Around 1,500 new chemicals are being introduced every year, making it difficult to keep track of which substances are hazardous, UNEP said.


The Rotterdam Convention should make it easier for developing countries to prevent those chemicals from entering their territories, UNEP added. Many pesticides that have been banned or whose use has been severely restricted in industrialized countries are still marketed and used in developing countries.


Although they can harm people's health and the environment, the world still needs chemicals to meet its increasing demand for food, said Jacques Diouf, director general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.


"The current massive upsurge in locusts in West Africa shows that pesticides are still needed for emergency control activities to prevent crop losses," Diouf explained.


"All efforts are being made to reduce the effects on people and the environment. The search for nonchemical locust control has proved promising but needs to be developed further for wide-scale use."


The meeting also will decide the permanent location for the convention's secretariat. Geneva and Rome — which currently share the secretariat — are bidding to be its permanent home, as is Bonn, Germany.


Source: Associated Press


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