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?
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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
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.
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.
report from World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that over 200,000 people
are killed due to the toxicity of these dangerous chemicals every year.
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.
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) 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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. 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
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,
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)
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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,
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
5. Protects the country from POPs
6. Provides a tracking system, so as to
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
1. Establishes a database of hazardous
2. Bans use and production of specific
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).
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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