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Europe-North America pollutant pact to start up


August 5, 2003

By Robert Evans

GENEVA, Aug 5 (Reuters) - A pact aimed at eliminating long-term pollutants like pesticides and solvents that can cause birth defects will go into force across much of Europe and Canada in October, a U.N. agency said on Tuesday.

The announcement from the world body's Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) said this followed ratification by France, the 16th country out of  35 original signatories to have the 1998 agreement approved by its legislature.

The agreement, the Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants or POPS, is likely to be joined by the United States -- despite the reluctance of the current U.S. administration to sign up to multilateral environmental accords, officials said.  It was signed under President Bill Clinton, as were other such accords later renounced by Bush.

"But the current administration and U.S. companies are making clear they are interested in being involved in future negotiations on what other chemicals might be added to the protocol," one ECE source said.

Ratification processes in Congress are moving ahead with the support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are expected to be completed within the next few months, the source added.

The Protocol, the sixth of its type on long-range pollution across borders reached under the ECE umbrella, currently covers 11 pesticides,  two industrial chemicals containing solvents, and three by-products.  All the pollutants remain for decades or centuries in the environment after use and are absorbed into living organisms through the soil, water or air. Scientists say they can affect physical and intellectual development and damage immune systems.

Infants in the womb and new-born babies are especially at risk from exposure in the placenta or from breast milk.

Several European countries and Canada, who had been pushing for an agreement for years, decided to go for a regional accord when it became clear a global pact would take much longer. Under the Protocol, forerunner for the 2001 Stockholm agreement on a  world-wide POPS pact which still needs 17 ratifications to go into  force, some products are banned outright,while others are gradually phased out.

The pact also sets strict rules and volume limits for the incineration of municipal, hazardous and medical waste.

The Stockholm accord, which needs a further 17 ratifications to go into force, will not initially cover the wide range of products targeted by the ECE protocol because some POPS, like insecticides, are still deemed vital in poorer countries.

The 16 signatories of the Protocol so far are Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Moldova, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland.

The ECE said they will meet in Geneva in December to review the pact and consider the addition of other substances to the list of targeted products.

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