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WWF Map Highlights Global Chemical Threat

Published: Tue 5 Dec 2000 02:47 PM
WWF Map Highlights Global Chemical Threat As Final UN Treaty Talks Begin
Johannesburg, South-Africa - WWF has released a new map demonstrating the global threat and reach of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). At the same time, WWF called on governments meeting in Johannesburg for the fifth and final negotiating session for a global treaty on POPs, to seize this opportunity to eliminate 12 toxic chemicals that threaten the wellbeing of both people and wildlife.
The Toxic Hot Spots map uses ten of the hundreds of examples of toxic contamination around the world to represent the pervasive nature of POPs. From PCB-contaminated fish in the Great Lakes to waste incineration and dioxin emissions in South Africa, every region of the world is affected by POPs. The map underlines that our understanding of the dangers from exposure to POPs is still superficial and that many of the effects will be felt by future generations. To reduce these threats, WWF argues that the nascent treaty must make elimination - not management - of chemicals such as polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins its central goal, combined with financial and technical assistance for developing nations to help them move toward safer alternatives.
"The last century was defined by the introduction of thousands of synthetic chemicals into an environment that was incapable of handling such an onslaught," said Clifton Curtis, Director of WWF’s Global Toxic Chemicals Initiative. "Negotiators in Johannesburg have a unique opportunity to begin the 21st century by turning the tide against chemical pollution."
WWF believes that if the treaty is to be truly effective, it must adopt ‘precaution’ as a guiding principle. This principle states that where there is scientific evidence that an activity threatens wildlife or human health, action should be taken even in the absence of full scientific certainty. Negotiators will also have to set criteria to eliminate additional POPs in the future. WWF considers that for DDT - one of targeted POPs - exemptions should be allowed for its continued use against malaria.
"As we head to the finish line of these important negotiations significant issues are still unresolved,” Clifton Curtis added. “Governments officials will need to present a united, strong showing of political will and courage to achieve a meaningful treaty—one that really contributes to a safer and healthier future for our children, wildlife, and environment."
POPs are a particularly dangerous class of chemicals because of four common characteristics: they are toxic; they resist the normal processes that break down contaminants in the body and the environment; they accumulate in body fat and are passed from mother to foetus in the womb; and they can travel great distances on wind currents. Long distance travellers such as dioxins, PCBs, and DDT can be released in one area and then hitchhike within air masses to regions far from their original source.
For further information:
Clifton Curtis, Director of WWF’s Global Toxic Chemicals Initiative, in Johannesburg, tel.: +27 11 884 56 60
Olivier van Bogaert, Press Officer, WWF International, tel.: +41 76 338 05 10 (mobile) or +27 11 884 56 60
Lee Poston, Press Officer, WWF-US, tel.: +27 11 884 56 60
NOTES TO EDITORS
 The ten Toxic Hot Spots highlighted by WWF's map are: Midway Island, North Pacific (PCBs, dioxins, furans) ; Pakistan (medical waste incineration) ; Great Lakes in North America (PCBs) ; South Africa (waste incineration) ; Norway (PCBs) ; Japan (dioxins) ; Russia (PCBs) ; Florida, United States (DDE, DDD, Dieldrin, Toxaphene) ; British Columbia, Canada (PCBs) ; Ethiopia (obsolete pesticide stockpiles).
 The twelve chemicals targeted under the POPs process are hexachlorobenzene (listed in two forms: as a fungicide and as an industrial chemical), endrin, mirex, toxaphene, chlordane, heptachlor, DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, furans.

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