May 31, 2004

POPs convention comes into force, work starts on implementation plans

In a statement marking the entry into force of the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) federal Environment Minister David Anderson urged Canadians to continue working for further reductions in levels of POPs that accumulate in the environment and pose a risk to human health.

The Convention, which bans or severely restricts the use of the so-called "dirty dozen" toxic substances, came into effect May 17 after France became the 50th state to ratify the agreement on February 17; this triggered a 90-day countdown to the Convention's entry into force. Canada was the first country to sign and ratify the Stockholm Convention in 2001.

The substances included in the Stockholm Convention are among the most harmful substances to human health and the environment. They fall into three broad categories: Pesticides, such as DDT, chlordane, toxaphene, mirex, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, and heptachlor; Industrial chemicals, such as PCB and hexachlorobenzene; and By-products and contaminants, notably dioxins and furans.

Aside from banning or severely restricting the use, production and release of these substances, the Stockholm Convention also requires those countries that have ratified the treaty to clean up existing stockpiles of POP pesticides and toxic chemicals. Parties to the Stockholm Convention will meet in Uruguay in 2005 to begin the process of evaluating other chemicals and pesticides that could be added to the initial list of 12 POPs.

Canada has played a leading role from the outset in addressing the issue of POPs in the environment. Canadian scientists did much of the original research that showed how POPs were disseminated in the environment, as well as their environmental and health effects. Canada was one of the first countries to ban or restrict their manufacture, use and release. In addition, a Canadian led the negotiations for the Stockholm Convention. Canada also provided $20 million to an international fund to help developing countries build their own capacities to clean up POPs and switch to safer alternatives, and was the only country to make such a financial commitment during the critical negotiating period of the Convention.

Anderson noted that while levels of POPs in the Arctic have declined slowly, substances such as chlorinated paraffins, brominated flame retardants and fluorinated surfactants are now being detected in the Arctic. Recent research by scientists with the Meteorological Service of Canada suggests that global warming may free POPs from previously accumulated sinks such as soil. In view of these findings, he said "it is essential that we continue long-term monitoring in the Arctic to further establish the relationships between POPs concentrations in the environment, changes in our climate, and associated health impacts."

Canada is currently consulting with northern aboriginal representatives, non-government organizations and other stakeholders on a National Implementation Plan for the Stockholm Convention, a draft of which is expected to be completed next year. More information about POPs is available on the Green Lane Web site, www.ec.gc.ca/pops/brochure_e.htm.

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