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Dirty dozen chemical treaty takes effect without U.S.
By Joan Lowy - Scripps Howard News Service

May 17, 2004

- A treaty that bans or severely restricts 12 of the world's most environmentally dangerous chemicals, known as the dirty dozen, went into effect Monday without the United States.

Chemicals covered by the agreement, known as the Stockholm Convention, include polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, used to insulate electric transformers and as additives in plastics and paint. Other chemicals in the treaty include pesticides such as DDT.

Note from the NPA: Chemicals considered for addition to the treaty include
the pesticide lindane, which has been banned in some countries but is still
used in the United States to treat head lice in children.

All the chemicals are characterized by their ability to remain in the environment for years or decades with little erosion and their tendency to accumulate in the fat tissue of animals and people.

Wind and water currents have spread the chemicals to even the most remote corners of the planet. Every person in the world carries traces of at least some of the dirty dozen within their body, including children who received doses of the chemicals while in the womb.

The United States and most Western countries banned PCBs, DDT and other substances on the list in the 1970s, but some are still in use in developing countries.

"The Stockholm Convention will save lives and protect the natural environment, particularly in the poorest communities and countries, by banning the production and use of some of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind," United Nations' Environment Program executive director Klaus Toepfer said.

Negotiations on the treaty were completed in 2001. On Feb. 17, France became the 50th country to adopt implementing legislation, triggering a 90-day countdown for the treaty to become binding. So far, 59 countries have ratified the treaty.

President Bush signed the treaty at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden three months after he took office, noting that the pollutants covered by the treaty have been "linked to developmental defects, cancer and other grave problems in humans and animals."

However, the administration has since raised concerns that a key feature of the agreement - the treaty's mechanism for the future addition of new chemicals to the list of banned substances - might undermine national sovereignty. Implementing legislation has stalled in Congress.

A meeting of the countries party to the convention is scheduled for next May in Uruguay. If the United States is not a party to the agreement before then, "it will put our chemical industry at a disadvantage," said World Wildlife Fund vice president Brooks Yeager, a former State Department official who was the chief U.S. negotiator on the treaty. "Chemicals that may be added to the treaty in the future may include chemicals that are manufactured by U.S. companies."

Greg Lebedev, president of the American Chemistry Council, a trade association for the chemical industry, said Congress should "act to assure that the U.S. can join the international community in implementing a treaty it helped bring about."

The pesticide DDT is the only chemical on the dirty dozen list not fully banned by the treaty. The agreement gives 25 countries, most of them in Africa, permission to continue to use DDT under limited circumstances to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Chemicals considered possible candidates for addition to the treaty include certain brominated flame retardants that have been found in the breast milk of American and European women and the pesticide lindane, which has been banned in some countries but is used in the United States to treat head lice in children.

Contact Joan Lowy at
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,


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