BUREAU OF OCEANS AND INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL AND SCIENTIFIC AFFAIRS
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Hearing on Persistent Organic Pollutants
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
UNITED STATES SENATE
Hearing on Persistent Organic Pollutants
STATEMENT OF DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY JEFFRY M. BURNAM
MAY 9, 2002
I would like to thank the Committee for inviting me here today to speak about three treaties which the Administration supports. The three treaties are: the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, or the POPs Convention; the POPs Protocol to the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, or LRTAP POPs Protocol; and the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent. The POPs Convention aims to protect human health and the environment from twelve chemicals that are of particular concern in the environment because they have four intrinsic characteristics: they are toxic, they have the potential to bioaccumulate, they are stable and thus resistant to natural breakdown, and they can be transported over long distances. The twelve chemicals include: Aldrin, Hexachlorobenzene, Chlordane, Mirex, DDT, Toxaphene, Dieldrin, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Endrin, Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (dioxins), heptachlor, and Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-furans (furans). The POPs Convention was submitted to the Senate for advice and consent this week, and we look forward to working with the Senate to help ensure early ratification.
POPs are capable of impacting human health and the environment far away from where they are released, including across national borders. POPs can have impacts in areas all over the United States, but have been of particular concern in Alaska and the Great Lakes Region. These chemicals have been linked to adverse human health effects: these include cancer, damage to the nervous system, reproductive disorders, and disruption of the immune system. These twelve chemicals are banned, severely restricted, or controlled in the United States, but are still in use abroad in many places. Because they are capable of long-range transport, a global treaty to address their human health and environmental effects is needed and was sought by the United States.
The POPs Convention addresses two types of pollutants: intentionally produced POPs, such as DDT or PCBs; and unintentionally produced POPs, such as dioxins and furans. For intentionally produced POPs, the Convention prohibits their production and use, subject to certain exemptions such as DDT use for disease vector control. The Convention also restricts trade in such substances. For unintentionally produced POPs, the Convention requires countries to develop national action plans to address these releases, and to apply “Best Available Techniques” on specified key source sectors to control them.
Under the POPS Convention, parties must take appropriate measures to ensure that POPs wastes are managed in an environmentally sound manner. Recognizing the needs of developing countries in managing POPs, the Convention includes a flexible system of financial and technical assistance by which developed countries will help developing countries to meet their obligations under POPS. Finally, the POPs Convention creates a science-based procedure that will govern the inclusion of additional chemicals to the Convention, including defining the criteria that must be met by chemicals proposed to be listed: namely that they are toxic, that they bioaccumulate, that they are resistant to natural breakdown and that they can be transported over long distances. In the language of the Convention, this science-based procedure involves an evaluation of “whether the chemical is likely, as a result of its long-range environmental transport, to lead to significant adverse human health or environmental effects, such that global action is warranted.” We do not yet know the manner in which the risk management factors will be weighed when applied to additional chemicals.
The implementing legislation submitted by the Administration also permits the United States to implement and become a party to two additional agreements. The first agreement -- closely related to the Stockholm Convention -- is the POPs Protocol to the LRTAP Convention. LRTAP POPS is a regional agreement negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which includes the United States, Canada, Europe, and the former Soviet Republics. The obligations in the LRTAP POPs Protocol are generally similar in nature and scope to those in the Stockholm POPs Convention, but are different in some ways. For example, LRTAP POPS includes four chemicals not included in the Stockholm Convention.
The other agreement is the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent, which aims to promote shared responsibility between exporting and importing countries in protecting human health and the environment. The Rotterdam Convention stipulates that export of certain especially hazardous chemicals can only take place with the prior informed consent of the importing country. When exported, these chemicals must be labeled and accompanied by safety data sheets that explain their potential health and environment effects – these requirements are similar to those currently in place in the United States. The Rotterdam Convention significantly enhances the safe management of chemicals by enabling countries, especially developing countries, to identify risks and make informed decisions about the importation and use of highly dangerous chemicals.
Together, these three Treaties address a number of chemical management problems faced by the international community. They enjoy broad support from the public, from environmental and industry organizations and from many members of Congress with whom we have been in contact. All of these agreements benefit the health and environmental well-being of U.S. citizens and of people all over the world.