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UPDATE - Nations adopt treaty to ban toxic chemicals

Date: 23-May-01
Country: SWEDEN
Author: Alister Doyle

Environment ministers or senior officials from 127 countries, including the United States which came under renewed criticism for abandoning a climate pact, agreed in Stockholm to the deal to axe 12 persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

"The first global convention of the new century has been adopted," Kjell Larsson, the Swedish Environment Minister, said after banging down a wooden gavel. The treaty was adopted without a vote at a conference centre.

He urged all nations to ratify the pact quickly.

POPs are mostly pesticides like DDT, later shown to have dangerous side-effects on birds and humans. Larsson noted that the inventor of DDT, Paul Hermann Mueller of Switzerland, won the 1948 Nobel Prize for Medicine.

The poisons linger in the environment for decades and build up in the fatty tissues of people and animals, damaging immune systems, causing cancers or even lowering sperm counts.

Earlier, Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, whose country holds the European Union presidency, hailed the treaty as a first step to control toxic human-made substances.

"We have to go further," he added. "Dangerous substances must be replaced by harmless ones step by step. If there is the least suspicion that new chemicals have dangerous characteristics it is better to reject them."

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said new chemicals would be added to the list of outlawed POPs in coming years despite U.S. worries about costs to industry.

"Even though the United States is frightened that new chemicals will be added, this is of course what will happen," she told a news conference.

Police guarded the conference centre in central Stockholm, but there were no protesters in the bright spring sunshine.

The treaty has the support of environmental groups including Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature. Greenpeace activists demonstrated yesterday against lingering emissions in Sweden and Britain.

INUIT, PENGUINS HIT BY POPS

POPs are swept around the world by winds and ocean currents and have been found in Antarctic penguins or Arctic polar bears.

Nine of the POPs are pesticides - DDT, aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex and toxaphene. They also comprise industrial chemicals PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and industrial waste products dioxins and furans.

Most will be banned immediately although some exemptions have been agreed - DDT, for instance, will still be used as an insecticide to control malaria in developing nations.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a message read to delegates, said the treaty "will make the world a safer place" and urged nations to ratify as quickly as possible.

The treaty will be signed by delegates on Wednesday and has to be ratified by at least 50 governments before it enters into force. That could take several years.

Larsson hit out at U.S. President George Bush for abandoning the 1997 Kyoto treaty aimed at limiting emissions of greenhouse gases and for coming up with a plan last week to boost production of coal, oil and nuclear power.

"I'm very disappointed that we can't continue to work globally with the Kyoto process," he told a news conference.

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