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Everywhere, All the Time: Why the U.S. Should Ratify 3 International Agreements on Persistent Organic Pollutants

a(broad) perspective

Today’s post is the seventh in a series on a recent CPR white paper, Reclaiming Global Environmental Leadership: Why the United States Should Ratify Ten Pending Environmental Treaties.  Each month, this series will discuss one of these treaties. Previous posts are here.

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are toxic substances that remain in the environment for long periods of time. They travel long distances via the wind and water and bio-accumulate in the food chain. POPs have been found virtually everywhere on earth, including thousands of miles away from any place they have been used, such as pristine areas of the Arctic. 

The Rotterdam Convention, the Stockholm Convention, and the POPs Protocol to the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) each address aspects of the international movement of toxic substances.  Each of these agreements has been signed by the United States, but cannot be ratified until implementing legislation is enacted.

The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade Adopted and Opened for Signature on September 10, 1998

Entered into Force on February 24, 2004 Number of Parties: 144

Signed by the United States on September 11, 1998

The Rotterdam Convention is a multilateral treaty that seeks to promote shared responsibilities regarding the import of hazardous chemicals, including pesticides, and to promote the open exchange of information. One of the most significant features of the Convention is the mandatory “prior informed consent” (PIC) procedure. It requires exporters of chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons in the exporting country to obtain the prior informed consent of an importing country before exporting to that country.  The PIC provisions allow an importing Party to make an informed decision about whether or not to receive a substance that has been listed as banned or severely restricted by the Convention. 

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants Opened for signature on May 22, 2001

Entered into Force on May 17, 2004 Number of Parties: 176

Signed by the United States on May 23, 2001 Sent to the Senate on May 6, 2002

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is a multilateral environmental treaty that aims to eliminate or restrict the production and use of certain POPs, including some pesticides, PCBs, dioxins, and furans. The Convention establishes a scientific review process to add other POPs of global concern to the list of 21 covered substances.

The Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants (LRTAP POPs Protocol) Adopted and Opened for Signature on June 24, 1998

Entered into Force on October 23, 2003 Number of Parties: 31

Signed by the United States on June 24, 1998

The Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants (or POPs) is one of eight protocols to the 1979 Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution, or LRTAP. The POPs Protocol requires Parties to take certain steps to eliminate the production and use of certain POPs in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, a regional organization that also includes the United States and Canada. Parties must ensure that certain POPs are destroyed, disposed of, and transported in an environmentally sound manner. It also requires the Parties to restrict the uses of certain other POPs and to reduce the annual emissions of yet others. 

In the United States, the Executive Branch has taken the position that, as a Party to LRTAP, the United States can enter the Protocol as an executive agreement.

Why Should the United States Ratify these Agreements?

U.S. interests will not be compromised by the ratification of these three agreements, and they are supported by a variety of industries, NGOs, and numerous foreign governments. By becoming a full participant, the United States can influence the listing decisions for chemicals and have the authority needed to effectively negotiate with other countries regarding the elimination or reduction of POPs, including those that threaten the health of Americans.

For the United States to be able to ratify these three international agreements, Congress will have to amend the U.S. statutes that regulate pesticides and toxic substances.

  • The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). FIFRA is the principal statute that regulates pesticides. Imported pesticides must meet the same requirements as domestically produced pesticides, but exported pesticides are subject to very limited regulation. To comply with the Rotterdam Convention, FIFRA would need to include the PIC provision for exported pesticides.
  • The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA is the primary statute that applies to non-pesticidal, non-drug substances.  Apart from minimum labeling requirements, TSCA does not require registration for chemicals prior to use or otherwise prohibit or restrict their use for export. To comply with the Stockholm Convention and the POPs Protocol, legislation should require EPA to take action to determine the appropriate regulatory action for the chemical.

One way to accomplish the necessary changes to FIFRA and TSCA is to enact the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 (S. 847), introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D.-N.J) in April 2011. The bill explicitly provides the necessary legislative changes to permit the United States to ratify the three agreements. In July, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the legislation.

What Actions Should the United States Take?

Ratifying these three treaties is necessary to restore U.S. leadership in global efforts to protect human health and the environment.  Moreover, they further the specific interest of the United States, since an effective international regime governing toxic chemicals will reduce the exposure of U.S. communities and citizens to these highly dangerous substances.

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