Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Rotterdam Convention Adds Pesticide Tributyltin To Global “Watch List”

Oct 31: Over 120 countries, party to the Rotterdam Convention meeting in Rome, Italy, agreed to add the pesticide tributyltin to a global trade “watch list”, but were unable to reach consensus on the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos and the pesticide endosulfan during negotiations last week. The conference also reaffirmed that governments have an obligation to use the Convention’s information-sharing mechanism to inform others about their national decisions on the import and management of hazardous chemicals.

Tributyltin (TBT) compounds are pesticides used in antifouling paints for ship hulls and are toxic to fish, molluscs and other aquatic organisms. The International Maritime Organization has moved to ban the use of antifouling paints containing TBT compounds. Chrysotile asbestos is the most commonly used form of asbestos, accounting for around 94 percent of global asbestos production. It is widely used in building materials, such as asbestos cement, pipe and sheet, and in the manufacture of friction products, gaskets and paper. Endosulfan is a pesticide widely used around the world, particularly in cotton production. It is hazardous to the environment and detrimental to human health, particularly in those countries where safeguards are not adequate.

Bakary Kanté, Director of the Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said, “Trade comes with rights and responsibilities, and the discussions this week have shown the strong commitment of many countries to this spirit of reciprocity. UNEP, along with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), jointly manages the Convention secretariat. The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade promotes transparency and information sharing about potential risks to human health and the environment. Its so-called PIC list currently contains 39 hazardous substances, including all other forms of asbestos.

Under the Convention, exports of chemicals and pesticides on the PIC list require the prior informed consent of the importing country. This gives developing countries in particular the power to decide which potentially hazardous chemicals they want to receive and to exclude those they cannot manage safely. Exporting countries are responsible for ensuring that no exports leave their territory when an importing country has made the decision not to accept the chemical or pesticide in question.

During the conference, many governments expressed serious concern about the failure to list chrysotile asbestos. The World Health Organization (WHO) made a statement reminding participants that chrysotile is a human carcinogen and that at least 90,000 people die every year of asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer directly linked to asbestos.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “Clearly the chemical footprint of our modern economies is expanding exponentially today. The transition towards a greener economy touches upon the responsibilities that we have as societies, as governments and as international institutions to look at how the use of chemicals empowers development and not undermines it, not least through the impact it has on the health of our societies.”

According to a UNEP release, some 70,000 different chemicals are available on the market today, and around 1,500 new ones are introduced every year. UNEP says, "This can pose a major challenge to regulators charged with monitoring and managing these potentially dangerous substances. Many pesticides that have been banned or whose use has been severely restricted in industrialized countries are still marketed and used in developing countries."

Access a release from UNEP (click here). Access a second release from the PIC website listing all of the chemicals on the PIC list (click here). Access the Rotterdam Convention website for extensive information on the meeting and background (click here). Access the Interactive Training on the Operation of the Rotterdam Convention (click here). Access the UNEP Activities in Chemicals website (click here). [*Toxics, Haz]