TOXIC chemicals treaty adopted; environmentalists claim victory

Tuesday, May 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ Delegates from 127 countries formally adopted a global treaty banning 12 highly toxic chemicals on Tuesday, but the success was overshadowed by tension between the United States and Europe over environmental policies.

With the bang of a gavel, the pact on persistent organic pollutants, or POPs _ concluded in December in South Africa _ was adopted by consensus after nearly two years of sometimes tense negotiations. A signing ceremony was scheduled for Wednesday.

``We must put a stop to the use of poisons which threaten plants, animals and the environment in which we live,'' Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson said in welcoming more than 500 delegates from 127 countries to the two-day signing conference.

The treaty is aimed at eventually eliminating all hazardous chemicals but lists 12 widely known as ``the dirty dozen'' for priority action.

The chemicals include PCBs and dioxins, plus DDT and other pesticides used in industry or created by improper waste disposal and shown to contribute to birth defects, cancer and other problems in humans and animals.

The treaty has been endorsed by President Bush, giving him an environmental reprieve with European leaders and environmentalists worldwide who have criticized his rejection of the 1997 Kyoto global warming treaty.

But while praising the U.S. administration for its strong endorsement of the chemicals treaty, Swedish Environment Minister Kjell Larsson reiterated his disappointment over the beleaguered accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

``It's quite sad that we won't be able apparently to get a strong common answer globally to the enormous challenge we are now facing in an area that is truly global _ climate change,'' Larsson told a news conference.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Christie Whitman, in Stockholm to sign the treaty, said proposals for alternative measures to address climate change will be forthcoming. The administration maintains the Kyoto treaty would harm the U.S. economy and would not receive congressional approval needed for ratification anyway.

Bush ``is fully prepared and enthusiastic to participate in initiatives that will actually receive ratification,'' Whitman said.

Environmental activists gave a thumbs-up to the chemical treaty's adoption but stressed it was only a beginning and urged quick ratification and implementation by governments and the eventual addition of more chemicals to the list.

``What now remains is turning words on paper into action, especially in the United States,'' Greenpeace spokesman Rick Hind said.

Persson also called on his colleagues to quickly ratify the accord and give it strong financial support.

``Dangerous substances do not respect international or national borders,'' he said. ``They can only be fought with common strategies.''

Production and use of most of the chemicals will be banned as soon as the treaty takes effect, following ratification by at least 50 countries _ a process expected to take four to five years.

Most of the chemicals covered in the treaty no longer are used in industrial countries like the United States or Sweden.

But they remain popular in developing countries, break down slowly and travel easily in the environment, with traces of many of them found in pristine areas of the Arctic after having been transported by air currents.

About 25 countries would be allowed to use DDT to combat malaria in accordance with World Health Organization guidelines until they can develop safer solutions.