EU seeks action on toxic chemicals at Uruguay event

European Union presses for international action to phase out further Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) that cause long-term damage to people and the environment. In the first Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention on POPs in Uruguay, the EU also is encouraging active participation of environment and industry NGOs in the first global, legally binding agreement to protect human health, wildlife and the environment from the toxic effects of chemicals...

LONDON, May 5, 2005 (GNN) -- The European Union (EU) is pressing for international action to phase out further Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) that cause long-term damage to people and the environment, according to a news release from the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (www.defra.gov.uk) issued by the Government News Network.

In the first Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (www.pops.int) in Punta del Este, Uruguay, this week -- May 2-6 -- the EU is also encouraging the active participation of environment and industry non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the first global, legally binding agreement to protect human health, wildlife and the environment from the toxic effects of chemicals.

Ninety-eight countries have ratified the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. POPs are toxic chemicals that resist normal processes that break down contaminants. They can travel great distances on wind and water currents and via trade of goods containing these substances. They accumulate in the body fat of people and animals and are passed on from mothers to unborn children.

More than 600 delegates from 100 countries are taking part in the conference this week.

Colin Church, head of the UK delegation and acting president of the EU delegation, announced: "The EU welcomes and supports the nomination by Norway of the flame retardant pentabromodiphenyl ether and the plan by Mexico to nominate hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH), including the pesticide lindane. Both of these are already severely restricted in the EU because of the danger they pose to people and the environment. The EU is nominating two further candidates -- the pesticide chlordecone and the brominated flame retardant hexabromobiphenyl.

"Our prime aim is to ensure that this meeting takes the decisions necessary for effective implementation and further development of the Stockholm Convention. In doing this, we have been seeking to work closely with developing countries and countries with economies in transition, to take their particular concerns into account.

"We are very much aware of the particular difficulties faced by developing countries who, for example, rely on POPs for disease and pest control. We fully recognize the importance of helping them to implement the Convention effectively. A sound financial mechanism will be the key to ensuring that this support materializes. The EU is the largest contributor to the Global Environment Facility, which is the interim financial mechanism for providing this support, paying 45% of the third replenishment."

The European Union met NGOs early in the Conference in order to try to ensure that NGO views were taken into account in decisions made by Convention participants.

The main concerns expressed by environment and health NGOs are connected with a perceived lack of ambition in terms of the practical technical implementation of the Convention objectives, such as the dioxin toolkit (to assist countries in estimating dioxin emissions), disposal of waste containing POPs and guidelines on Best Available Technology and Best Environmental Practice (BAT/BEP) to minimize releases of unintentionally-produced dioxins and furans.

Dioxins and furans are by-products from some industrial and combustion processes. The dioxin toolkit is designed to quantify sources of dioxins and provides a means of assessing releases of dioxins over time and between countries. Field tested by a number of countries receiving assistance from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the toolkit is a flexible document and can be applied to all countries. A number of countries have already used it in preparation of their National Implementation Plans under the Stockholm Convention.

The EU recognizes that the toolkit is an evolving document and encourages its continued revision and updating. It therefore recommends the toolkit be used on a provisional basis with a view to making amendments as new information becomes available. The toolkit needs to be complemented with a source identification strategy and updated with new methods and knowledge on emission factors as well as correction of the citations to reflect circumstances in developing and countries with economies in transition.

Jill Hanna, head of the European Community Delegation, paid tribute to the role played by NGOs in the Stockholm Convention.

"We are very grateful for the important contribution made by NGOs throughout the process leading to this first Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention," she said.

"They took part constructively in the work to develop the dioxin toolkit, BAT/BEP guidance and guidelines on acceptable POPs levels in disposable waste, so they are well aware of the benefits and limitations of the documents and the reasons for them.

"We too recognize that much work remains to be done, but the way forward we propose is both pragmatic and sensible and provides developed and developing countries with a sound platform from which to progress. It is also a testament to what can be achieved through a spirit of co-operation and building on common ground rather than concentrating on differences."

Irish MEP Avril Doyle, leading the group of members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in Uruguay this week, commented:

"It is vitally important to strike the right balance between implementing the current provisions of the Stockholm Convention and expanding its scope. We welcome in particular that work is now in progress to set up a non-compliance mechanism, which will give teeth to this Convention so that it is not just a paper tiger. This will be further elaborated at a special meeting immediately before the second Conference of the Parties. Another key achievement has been to set up a POPs Review Committee to assess toxic substances to be added to the blacklists in the Convention."

The EU welcomed the guidelines and values for waste containing POPs developed under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, but acknowledged further work is needed before they can be adopted by the Stockholm Convention. The EU recommends the provisional values are taken into account in the Convention's implementation.

Parties to the Convention are required to promote the use of BAT/BEP to reduce releases of dioxins from a range of industrial and diffuse sources. The draft guidelines on BAT and the provisional guidance on BEP provide an opportunity to disseminate best practice and are an essential tool to inform the development of Action Plans, a requirement under the Stockholm Convention. NGOs agree these guidelines contain some useful material and require further work prior to adoption. Some developing countries requested the guidelines be revised and expanded to offer more flexibility in terms of applicability to situations in developing countries.

The EU has suggested the expert group continues its work to complement and strengthen the draft documents, for adoption at the third meeting of the Conference of Parties, in particular addressing the needs and circumstances of developing countries and regions.

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