MAC: Mines and Communities

Prior Informed Consent: Asbestos, Pesticides, Lead

Published by MAC on 2003-03-11

Prior Informed Consent: Asbestos, Pesticides, Lead

ENS, Rome, Italy,

March 11, 2003

An international list of chemicals subject to trade controls will expand to include all forms of asbestos, three pesticides, and two forms of lead if recommendations made by a committee of government appointed experts is approved under the Rotterdam Convention. The international treaty requires exporting countries trading in a list of hazardous substances to obtain the prior informed consent of importing countries before proceeding with the trade.

While the Convention has not yet entered into force, in the interim, governments have agreed to apply the treaty's prior informed consent (PIC) provisions on a voluntary basis.

Twenty-six pesticides and five industrial chemicals are subject to the interim PIC procedure. The chemicals recommended for listing by the expert committee are additional new entries into the interim PIC process.

The experts' recommendations on these chemicals, made last week at the close of a weeklong session in Rome, will be discussed in Geneva from November 17 to 21 by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.

If adopted by the governments that are parties to the Convention, these chemicals will become subject to the prior informed consent procedure.

A new pesticide to be included in the PIC list is DNOC, an insecticide, weedkiller and fungicide. It is highly toxic to humans and also poses a high risk to other organisms. The review process was initiated by bans in Peru and the European Union.

The review of a severely hazardous pesticide formulation was initiated by Senegal. The pesticide formulation contains a mixture of the fungicides benomyl and thiram and the highly toxic insecticide carbofuran. It is locally sold under the name Granox TBC and Spinox T.

Reports of illnesses and deaths prompted the government of Senegal to map incidents of poisoning in rural areas. They found that Granox TBC/Spinox T is used in a powdered form by peanut farmers as a seed treatment. Farmers were biting on each nut to release the seed, ingesting the pesticide in the process. The result was thousands of cases of poisoning featuring fevers, chest and abdominal pains, vomiting, insomnia - and a number of deaths.

In developed countries seeds are often treated and planted mechanically, protecting farmers from contact with the chemicals.

The committee's review of the pesticide parathion was triggered by bans in the EU and Australia. Like other organosphosphorus insecticides, "parathion poses an acute hazard to hundreds of thousands of farm workers, particularly in developing countries where the lack of protective clothing and appropriate application equipment makes it more likely that people will come in direct contact with pesticides."

Parathion poisoning causes nausea, diarrhea, blurred vision, and, in severe cases, respiratory depression, convulsions and death. Certain severely hazardous formulations of parathion are already listed under the Convention, and now the recommendation to add the remaining formulations of parathion to the interim PIC procedure launches a process that will conclude in late 2004.

Two forms of lead - tetraethyl and tetramethyl - used as additives in gasoline or petrol, are also on the list of toxic chemicals recommended for regulation. "It has been known for many years that lead in petrol or gasoline is a serious health risk particularly to children. Studies have demonstrated that children living near roads and in urban areas where leaded petrol is used, can suffer permanent brain damage, including lower intelligence scores," the committee said.

The experts called for "rapid global phase out" of these lead compounds by 2005. Similar measures in the past 12 months have been passed by the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development in its Plan of Implementation and by the UNEP Governing Council.

They agreed on all remaining forms of asbestos that are not now covered by the interim PIC process. They recommended that the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee place five asbestos forms - actinolite, anthophyllite, amosite, tremolite, and chrysotile - on the prior informed consent trade list under the Convention.

The Rotterdam Convention was adopted in 1998 under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization as a response to increasing awareness of the health and environment risks of hazardous chemicals.

The Convention gives importing countries the tools and information they need to identify potentially hazardous chemicals and to exclude those they cannot manage safely. When trade is permitted, requirements for labelling and the provision of information on potential health and environmental effects promote the safe use of the chemicals, the Rotterdam Convention Secretariat states on its website:


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