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Examine the key environmental principles included in the MEAs regulating pesticides and persistent organic pollutants

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Examine the key environmental principles included in the MEAs regulating pesticides and persistent organic pollutants. How effective are these principles? What are the main strengths and weaknesses of regulating PICs and POPs?









1          Introduction                                                                                                                3


2          Analysis                                                                                                                       4


3          Recommendations                                                                                                      13


4          Conclusion                                                                                                                  15


5          Bibliography                                                                                                               15













The post-World War II era has seen unprecedented development in synthetic chemicals in private and military applications. This has been translated into the creation of a myriad of essential and convenience products in plastics, high tech composites, pharmaceuticals and agricultural compounds all beneficial to humans. It has led to a sophisticated lifestyle beyond the imagination of past Emperors. It is speculated that there are over 18 million synthetic chemical substances known to science and at least 75,000 of these are used in Pesticides, Plastics and other products[1]. The negative impact from all of this on the human being and the environment has also been unimaginable. More than 250 synthetic chemicals are now found in our bodies regardless of where we live[2].  

Pesticide is an umbrella term that covers a variety of chemical compounds including fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides, nematicides, molluscicides, plant growth regulators and others. Among these, organochlorine (OC) insecticides (e.g. DDT, endrin, dieldirin, etc.) used successfully in controlling a number of diseases, such as malaria and typhus, were banned or restricted after the 1960s in most of the technologically advanced countries. The introduction of other synthetic insecticides – organophosphate (OP) insecticides in the 1960s, carbamates in 1970s and pyrethroids in1980s and the introduction of herbicides and fungicides in the 1970s–1980s contributed greatly to pest control and agricultural output3. Pesticides are toxic by design and the prolific use of pesticides and other chemicals have led to dire environmental consequences.

A report from World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that over 200,000 people are killed due to the toxicity of these dangerous chemicals every year[3]. The casualty figure in fact do not confirm the real picture of poisoning caused by the frequent use of pesticides but approximately over three million poisoning cases have been reported annually[4].


There is a nexus between pesticides and pollution. Some of the Pesticides are inherently residual and often referred to as persistent organic pollutants (POP), as they remain within the environment and can be very harmful for a very long period. There are over 75,000 different chemicals used in pesticides, pharmaceuticals, plastics and other products. Additionally, each year thousands of new synthetic chemicals are added to this stock5.  This far exceeds the testing capacity of even the most developed countries and results in limited knowledge of the impact on human health and the environment. The other related issue is that while some of these pesticides and associated chemicals have been laboratory tested individually for toxicity and carcinogenic properties; very little is known of their potential to mimic hormones (endocrine disruption)[5] or weaken the immune system ( immunosuppression), or of their effects over long periods of low exposure (agricultural usage), and their synergistic impact when combined with other chemical compounds.

The fact that these chemicals are a significant part of international trade and used on a daily basis globally expands the dimension of chemical contamination and issues of environmental and public health. Some chemicals maybe prohibited in one country and used and sold in another, for example, the pesticide Aldrin (DDT) is banned in the USA and still sold by US and East European countries under different brand names in developing countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, where it is sold as Aldrex[6]. Trans-boundary chemical contamination via inadvertent spills or deliberate dumping and through biological transfer from the food chain as in the case of mercury, presents a global threat. It is because of this potential for harm that a system of Prior Informed Consent (PIC) was established to provide an early warning to destination countries.

Scientific development has improved our capacity to detect minute quantities of chemicals (as in parts per trillion) and therefore allow us to make judgements as to what is food safe or tolerable to human health. In the 1940`s and 50`s the regulatory approach was on chemical toxicity of short term exposures.

In the 1960`s and 70`s the focus turned to longer term exposures of smaller doses which caused cancer or birth defects. The neurological and other effects of DDT spawned Rachel Carson`s extremely influential book " The Silent Spring" in 1963 and led to a ban on US domestic usage.

In the 1980`s and onwards there has been greater awareness on impact of chemical contaminant not only on various parts of the human anatomy, but on the external effects on the ecology generally. These studies have collated evidence that chemicals contaminants may mimic hormones and disrupt endocrine systems in both wildlife and people[7]. Hormones are the chemical signals that regulate critical aspects of our body functioning and behaviour. They influence our genetic makeup and determine physical and psychological traits and as such, have the capacity to adversely affect sexual behaviour, physical deformities, sperm counts and atypical sex ratios in populations. About 50 chemicals have thus far been shown to act as endocrine disruptors7 under certain circumstances and suggest that they can harm reproductive and immune systems and even change the behaviour of certain wildlife species[8].  

Responses has been ad hoc and hap hazard resulting in the development of voluntary multilateral environmental agreements for different categories of chemical compounds and related activities, but no holistic framework agreement for regulating all chemicals or related wastes. For example, the Rotterdam Convention addresses trade and industrial chemicals and provides a system of Prior Informed Consent to destination countries; the Stockholm convention addresses the manufacture, trade, use and disposal of persistent organic pollutants (POP) ; the Basel Convention handles the trans-boundary shipment and management of exported hazardous wastes; the Montreal protocol is concerned with the manufacture, use of ozone depleting substances and nuclear and radioactive chemicals and material are monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, despite the absence of a framework instrument the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) serves as a coordinating secretariat for all major conventions and in recent years have tried to become more effective by organizing its work in "chemical clusters" and place its research into the World Summit agendas.

For the purposes of this paper, two key principles of International Environmental Law have been chosen to analyse the risks involved in the usage of pesticide and other chemicals and how to manage it. The first principle is sustainable development, that is, development that meets present needs without compromising the requirements of future generations[9]. This principle recognizes the world as a global system that connects space and also time, for example decisions taken previously by our grandparents will affect us today and current decisions taken by us will determine the quality of life that our children will have tomorrow. This principle has a more pervasive and personal effect, since we are relating the use of chemical compounds that can change the genetic structure of our reproductive organs and influence not only our lives, but those of future generations.

The second is the precautionary principle which has four central components: taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty; shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of an activity; exploring a wide range of alternatives to possibly harmful actions; and increasing public participation in decision making[10]. It recognises that the time required to complete tests on the effects of a hazardous compound may result in irreparable harm to the environment and people by the time the study is completed. Article 15 of the Rio Declaration in 1992 implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result. The worldwide acceptance of this principle has given it the status of customary international law.

The complexity and behavioural characteristics of pesticides and other chemical compounds coupled with their diverse origins have made it very challenging to establish a holistic framework for their management and control. Notwithstanding, a number of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEA) have attempted to grapple with the issues.

What then are the current issues facing us in the twenty first century? The challenge as noted earlier is to maintain our risk assessment ability, so as to keep up with the rapidity of new chemical production and to use new and more effective techniques of discovery of their effects. Theo Colborne et al have noted other effects of chemical use[11], such as:

1.      There are demonstrable effects outside of the laboratory in wild animal populations and in groups of people exposed by accident or through medicine.(which would inform us of progressive deterioration or effect of the use of chemical compounds)

2.      Very low exposures show that the classic high dose experiments can completely miss important low dose effects. Moreover, these results are reproducible in the lab. This science does not rest on extrapolating high dose curves down to the low end of exposure.

3.      It`s not just estrogens. While the first two decades of this work focused largely on man-made chemicals capable of mimicking estrogen, within the last five years we`ve seen that expand to include estrogen blockers, androgen blockers, progesterone blockers and compounds that interfere with thyroid. This last one is especially important because thyroid hormone is key to proper brain development.

4.      It`s not just the disruption of the endocrine system. Natural chemical signals are important at all levels of organization of life--within cells, among cells, between organs, even between organisms, including from one species to another. Any of these chemical signals, in principle, are vulnerable to disruption. Scientists, for example, have just begun to look at the chemical signals that mediate communication between symbiotic organisms, such as nitrogen-fixing bacteria and the roots of the plants in which they live, and are examining how synthetic chemicals might interfere with these signals. Disrupting these `signals of life` could have important ecosystem impacts.

5.      The developing fetus is exquisitely sensitive to both the natural hormone signals used to guide its development, and the unexpected chemical signals that reach it from the environment. Both the natural signals and the chemicals that disrupt them act as "morphogens." They guide the fetus through forks in its developmental path and also help set its sensitivity to subsequent hormonal signals. This involvement of setting sensitivity can have life-long consequences. New science, for example, on the developing prostate, shows that natural and synthetic estrogens experienced in the womb can lead to enlarged and hypersensitive prostate in adulthood.

This information expands our knowledge of potential impacts and provides great concern, since it is not expected that there would be any abatement in the use of synthetic pesticides. Paul and Anne Ehrlich have noted that each year 2.5 million tons of synthetic pesticides are used worldwide establishing it as a multibillion dollar global industry. Lester Brown et al[12] have noted that despite the extensive use of these chemical controls pest and spoilage still account for 25-50% of crop losses. This loss percentage is higher than average crop losses were before synthetic pesticides were introduced after World War II. Wide area broadcast spraying of pesticides as practiced locally by Caroni 1975 Limited has been a poor pest control strategy as only a very small proportion (.1%) of the chemical reaches the target pest. Another reason is the rapid evolutionary cycle and resistive ability of pest populations. These have been noted in multiple species of bugs, bats, weeds, fungi and insects, which have become super resistant. As a result, far too great tonnage of synthetic pesticides are used for the results obtained. These excess chemicals become POPs that can injure people and non-target species and migrate to the far reaches of the globe.

Why do importing countries knowingly import banned pesticides? The answer is three fold:

Firstly, each country has different cost benefit justifications. A developing state might determine its overall interests is better served by using relatively more dangerous chemicals, as the cost of environmental harm and injury to farmers are outweighed by the benefit of reducing insect borne illnesses such as Dengue and malaria or bettering crop yields to feed its population. A developed country may ban such a chemical if it does not have the same threat or agricultural objectives.

The second justification for importation is a lack of information and awareness at the local level – in developed countries, access to information stimulates the public to demand stronger controls. This is not the case in many developing countries. The cost benefit analysis above is only possible if developing countries have the capacity (financial) and accurate information to do the risk analysis or relevant institutional and investigative infrastructure to control, use and dispose of hazardous chemicals.

The third issue is private and corporate corruption, which arise from the huge profit margins associated with dangerous chemicals and the powerful institutional and political lobbies that super profits can buy.

These issues arising from the lucrative trade in chemicals generally and the scandalous revelations from environmental mishaps and the general apprehension surrounding dangerous chemicals have led to calls for an international system of information exchange, in particular, a system of Prior Informed Consent (PIC) where the importing countries are given the opportunity to make informed choices about receiving specific chemicals. These efforts were initiated with voluntary codes such as the FAO International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides and the London Guidelines for the Exchange of Information on chemicals in International Trade. Both parties moved in tandem with pesticides and industrial chemicals and were the first voluntary standards in 1985. The adoption of the code left unresolved the issue of PIC, which would allow importing countries to refuse shipments of pesticides banned or severely restricted in exporting countries. Other criticisms by developing countries were that the code was too weak- non-binding and voluntary and without enforcement mechanisms and without technical assistance for developing countries for risk assessment, monitoring and enforcement.

Both of these codes were adopted at the Rotterdam Convention along with the establishment of a PIC procedure in 1998. The Convention comprised 154 parties with 72 signatories and came into force in February 2004. At the present time 154 parties have ratified the MEA. Generally speaking the Convention bans the export of any chemical listed in Annex III[13], unless the importing country has given its consent. Chemicals are listed when they have been banned or severely restricted in the exporting country. Banned Chemicals include those that have been refused approval for first time use or withdrawn by industry in order to protect human health. Severely restricted includes chemicals with evidence of human health and environmental concerns. The operational mechanism for implementing this agreement is the Conference of the Parties (COP) which met annually, but has become a bi-annual meeting of all the signatories to examine new issues, review and enforce decisions taken.

Strengths of PIC Agreement:

1.         Provides importing country with advanced information on hazardous chemicals, which the             Government may not know otherwise.

2.         Educates officials on handling method and potential harms.

3.         Allows Government to seek other options to the hazardous chemical.

4.         Allows sharing of information and networking.

5.         Protects the country from POPs

6.         Provides a tracking system, so as to monitor effects.


1.         Voluntary procedures do not create strong obligations or incentives for compliance.

2.         Lack of institutional resources at receiving end to undertake protective measures.

3.         Developing countries do not have strong regulatory history and corruption of enforcement            officials is an issue in many developing countries.

A group of powerful pesticides that persist over long periods in the environment known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) have caused a great deal of concern in recent years. In May 1995 the UNEP adopted a decision focusing on 12 priority POPs (the dirty dozen) establishing a process for evaluating their impacts on human, plant and animal health, relevant transport pathways globally, sources, risks, benefits and other considerations. The experts found that sufficient evidence existed to warrant international action. In December 2000 at the Stockholm Convention, 122 states finalized a new treaty aimed at reducing and eliminating POPs. POPs were categorised as pesticides, industrial chemicals and unintended by products or waste. The treaty called for an immediate ban on 8 of the 12 identified POPs. It bans the production and use of intentionally produced POPs and unintentionally produced POPs where feasible.

Strengths of POPs Procedure:

1.         Establishes a database of hazardous chemicals.

2.         Bans use and production of specific hazardous chemicals

3.         Highlights dangers associated with hazardous chemicals and provides method for phasing out      existing hazardous chemicals.

4.         Provides an assessment procedure to list industrial chemicals and to control production and             development of new POP.

5.         Allows tracking of hazardous chemicals

6.         Ban provides an incentive for research into environment friendly alternative solutions.

7.         Identifies stockpiles of hazardous chemicals and develops strategy to eliminate it.

8.         Forces parties to establish national implementation plan to manage hazardous chemicals.

9.         Obligated to educate public on dangers of POPs and to share information, cooperate in     monitoring, eliminating and sharing research data on POPs.


1.         Voluntary agreement

2.         Lack of institutional and regulatory resources to enforce all aspects of agreement.

3.         Corrupt customs and government officials, who are reluctant to enforce ban.

4.         Lack of proper research facilities and staffing to undertake testing and monitoring of long term    effects of POP

5.         Poor record of treaty implementation at national level and timely passage of enabling legislation.


The PIC and POP procedures have been generally effective in reducing the negative impact of pesticide use, particularly in highlighting very hazardous chemicals globally. However, its success has been stymied at the national levels, since like many of the MEAs, implementation has been lethargic for a variety of reasons. A key one is that there is no holistic approach to achieve the synergies available. Duplicative efforts waste scarce resources. To an extent, this has been recognised by the UNEP and an attempt to develop a more coherent approach was attempted in 2006 under a "Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management"(SAICM)[14]. Important aspects adopted are a life cycle approach to monitoring hazardous chemicals, which follows the path of the chemical to it endpoint and the setting of a target date for full implementation of 2020. To illustrate how the MEAs can be more effective on a national scale, I will use Trinidad and Tobago to focus my recommendations.

There is the need to develop a policy and legal framework to incorporate the key principles of these MEAs into national law to enable compliance. This requires some level of legal assessment and reform to incorporate the issues listed below:

1.      We must allocate resources to improve the capacity of institutions to regulate the importation of products that are regulated by MEAs. This is key to improving detection and enforcement

2.      Tax incentives to reduce use of certain chemicals imposed on industry. This is where the implementation of the polluter pays principle would be useful. The polluter pays principle is a part of the environmental law in T&T but it’s debatable whether the subsidiary legislation on pollution standards (i.e. noise pollution and water pollution) implement the polluter pays principle.

3.      Local corporate bodies should be encouraged through tax incentives to form active environment watch groups to educate and further the implementation of international protocols and disseminate its studies and findings on industrial and organic chemical compounds. A permanent database managed by the Ministry of the Environment should be made available to disseminate and receive data on hazardous and industrial chemicals, along with links to research studies and the latest information. The Ministry along with the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) should also coordinate the work of these groups by sponsoring a semi- annual workshop to update on international protocol implementation.

4.      Collaboration among ALL sectors relevant to the management and importation of chemicals would be necessary. This would include ministries responsible for Agriculture, Health, Water and Environment, so as to develop the capacity to monitor the use and effects of many of the pesticides imported into the island. In this regard, scholarships should be provided for research studies in hazardous chemicals and waste remediation.

5.      Implement the precautionary principle by forcing chemical companies to prove the safety of existing chemicals which are suspected of hazardous effects. This reverse onus of proof will instruct the removal of dangerous chemicals from the market.

6.      Fulfill the public right to know by undertaking a national campaign to educate the public on the dangers of pesticides and by products which may result from improper disposal, such as the frequent burning of plastics and tyres. (Another IEL principle: transparency/public participation and access to information)

7.      Mandate medical institutions to report cases of chemical poisoning to the Ministry of the Environment so that follow up investigations can be undertaken.


Finally, these measures require a firm commitment by the respective government to protect its` citizens now and in the future regardless of the political and economic costs. In reality, this commitment is hard to obtain and often gives way to economic and political interests at the expense of the citizenry. Notwithstanding our only hope is for the UNEP to continue educating the world and to win additional believers in sustainable development and to adopt the precautionary principle.



United Nations Environment Programme, Training Manual on International Environmental Law

Birnie P, Boyle A, and Redgwell C, International Law & the Environment (3rd edn, Oxford University Press 2009).

Brown L, Renner M, Starke L, Halweil B; Vital Signs 2000: The Environmental Trends That Are Shaping Our Future; World Watch Institute, State of the World 80 (2000)

Colborn T, Dumanoski D, and Peterson Myers J, Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival? A Scientific Detective Story. New York : Dutton, 1996.

      Aktar W, Sengupta D, Chowdhury A, Impact of pesticides use in agriculture: their benefits and    hazards.   Interdisc Toxicol  Vol. 2 (1) 2009.

Ahmed Azmi M, Naqvi S, Pesticide Pollution, Resistance and Health Hazards.   

Baqai Medical University Press, Pakistan. 

Hunter D, Salzman J, Zaelke D. International Environmental Law and Policy. 3rd Ed. Foundation Press.

Carson, R. Silent Spring. Boston : Houghton Mifflin ; Cambridge, Mass. : Riverside Press, 1962

Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future

United Nations 1987 (Brundtland Report)

David Kriebel et al, The Precautionary Principle in Environmental Science. Environmental Health Perspectives. VOLUME 109 | NUMBER 9 | September 2001

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, (Rio de Janeiro 3 - 14 June 1992)

Ehrlich P, Ehrlich A, Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-Environmental Rhetoric Threatens our Future, Island Press, 1996

[1] Lester Brown, M Renner, L Starke, B Halweil; Vital Signs 2000: The Environmental Trends That Are Shaping Our Future; World Watch Institute, State of the World 80 (2000).

[2] Colborn, Theo; Dianne Dumanoski; and John Peterson Myers. Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival? A Scientific Detective Story. New York : Dutton, 1996. 306 p

[3] For WHO study of negative impact of selected POPs: http://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/en/pcs_95_39_2004_05_13.pdf


[4] M. Ahmed Azmi and S.N.H. Naqvi. Pesticide Pollution, Resistance and Health Hazards.  

Baqai Medical University, Pakistan.  http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs/13220/InTech-Pesticide_pollution_resistance_and_health_hazards.pdf


[5] For more on endocrine disruption see Colborn, Theo; Dianne Dumanoski; and John Peterson Myers. Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival? A Scientific Detective Story. New York : Dutton, 1996.


[6] From actual field research by author at Maturita Agricultural Store, Arima on October 5th 2013.

[7] For more information, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/28/hormone-disruptors-bpa-chemicals-dirty-dozen_n_4169806.html (accessed October 15, 2013)

[8]  See http://www.ourstolenfuture.org (accessed October 17, 2013)

[9]  See Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future

United Nations 1987 (Brundtland Report)

[10]  See David Kriebel et al, The Precautionary Principle in Environmental Science. Environmental Health Perspectives. VOLUME 109 | NUMBER 9 | September 2001

[11] See http://www.ourstolenfuture.org/Basics/keypoints.htm (accessed October 17, 2013)

[12] See http://www.pic.int/

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