Mexico to Sign POPs Treaty Completing NAFTA Compliance

By Susana Guzman

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, May 15, 2001 (ENS) - Mexico will sign the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS) to phase out 12 persistent organic pollutants that threaten human health and the environment, Victor Lichtinger, Mexico's Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat), announced Monday.

The United States and Canada have announced that they too will sign the POPs treaty, so Mexico's decision to sign makes the elimination of these 12 chemicals universal across the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) region.

Several of the 12 chemicals already prohibited in developed countries, like DDT or PCBs polyclorinated biphenols (PCBs).

"We are on the blacklist but this will change," said Lichtinger. He acknowledged that Mexico has a delay in the use and emissions of chemicals such as pesticides, toxic wastes and combustion process. "DDT is still commonly used in areas where it is required to fight against malaria carrying mosquitoes," he said.

officials

Mexico's Environment Minister Victor Lichtinger (left) and Semarnat Undersecretary Raśl Arriaga brief the media Monday. (Photo courtesy Semarnat)
During a press conference, officials said that Mexico can sign this agreement because nine of these 12 toxics have been "practically eliminated from the national market." The 12 initial POPs are aldrin, chlordane, DDT, diedrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene, PCBs, hexachlorobenzene, dioxins and furans. Other chemicals can be added to the list covered by the treaty at a later time.

According to environmental authorities, Mexico is forbidden to produce, import and commercialize four of the chemicals on the initial POPs list - aldrin, diedrin, endrin and mirex.

Meanwhile others like toxaphene, chlordane and organochloride pesticides are under strict handling and disposal regulations. Only three represent a challenge for Mexico: PCBs, dioxins and furans. These are governed under a set of specific tasks set forth by the Environmental Cooperation Commission of the North American Free Trade Agreement, to be eliminated from the region by 2008.

Persistent organic pollutants are toxics, bioacummulable and dangerous because they move long distances trough air, water or migratory species. "These persistent organic compounds have negative impacts on human health. Some of them are carcinogenic, they cause allergies and hypersensitivities, affect the central and peripheral nervous systems, and cause reproductive disorders and immunological problems," said Lichtinger.

At an international meeting May 22 and 23 in Stockholm, Sweden at least 100 countries are expected to sign the Convention. Fifty ratifications are required to make the agreement legally binding.

Fernando Bejarano, director of the Red de Accion Sobre Plaguicidas y Alternativas en Mexico (Network for Action on Pesticides and their Alternatives in Mexico) welcomed the signing of the Convention. "The Stockholm Convention is a landmark treaty for the protection of human health. It makes the precautionary principle a reality and future generations will thank governments for their foresight," he said.

Bejarano said the group is especially pleased by the provisions in the treaty to tackle dioxins and furans, two groups of pollutants produced mainly as a by-product from waste incinerators and other combustion processes.

"We look forward to finding innovative ways to work with our governments to implement the treaty, especially those provisions that will lead to the elimination of the industrial by-products dioxins and furans," he said.

As a first step, Mexican authorities are taking an accurate national inventory of toxic wastes, "because there are three official numbers: eight, five and 1.5 million of tons per year," said Raśl Arriaga, undersecretary of management for environmental protection with Semarnat. The inventory is scheduled for completion this year.

Currently, Mexico has only two sites to confine or treat toxic wastes. But now Semarnat is going to promote clean technologies to holders of private capital in an attempt to get more facilities funded. "We have 16 requisitions to reuse and recycle toxic wastes. We are not authorizing sites for confinement," Arriaga said.

Today Lichtinger is in Paris to participate in the annual ministerial meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development which this year for the first time includes a series of roundtables on sustainable development.

Lichtinger will be in Washington Thursday and Friday to present Mexico's environmental policy to politicians, entrepreneurs and social organizations. Lichtinger will have his first private meeting with Interior Secretary Gale Norton who is the Cabinet member responsible of the natural resources of United States.

More about POPs is online at: http://www.chem.unep.ch

Semarnat's website address is: http://www.semarnat.gob.mx