World set to ban 'dirty dozen' chemicals

STOCKHOLM, MAY 20. More than 120 nations will formally sign a pact on Tuesday to outlaw or minimise the use of the ``dirty dozen'' toxic chemicals blamed for causing fatal diseases and birth defects among humans and animals.

The chemicals, used in pesticides, in fire retardants in homes and in paints or plastics, have been found to trigger disastrous side-effects including cancers. Traces of the 12 so-called Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), swept around the globe by air or ocean currents, have been found even in the breast milk of Inuit women in the Arctic and have been blamed for turning polar bears into hermaphrodites.

Meeting in Stockholm, Environment Ministers and senior officials from more than 70 nations will on Tuesday formally agree on a deal to ban or restrict the use of the chemicals, a pact which was hammered out in December in Johannesburg. They will hold preparatory talks on Monday and sign the agreement on Wednesday. Under the pact, use of the POPs will be banned or heavily restricted.

The United States, under fire even from its allies since the President, Mr. George W. Bush, pulled out of a global agreement aimed at combating global warming, will be among those signing - in a sign that it is not abandoning all environmental cooperation. But the so-called Stockholm Convention is less controversial - many of the 12 chemicals have been known killers for decades and have been banned in many industrial nations. And costs of eliminating them are far lower than fighting climate change. ``Every single nation is going to have to do something it is not already doing to comply,'' Mr. Jim Willis, director of chemicals for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said.

Among the chemicals covered by the pact are the pesticides and insecticides aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin and endrin, blamed for inadvertently killing fish and birds. Dioxins and furans, the unwanted byproducts of chemical production or burning, have been linked to serious illness in humans. Also on the list are polychlorinated biphenyls, used as heat exchange fluids or as additives in paint and plastics and believed to have caused disorders in animals and birth defects in humans. The anti- malarial DDT, already widely restricted, is included as are several chemicals believed to be carcinogenic.

``It'll be a victory for the environment if the words on paper and from the Ministers are turned into concrete actions,'' said Mr. Darryl Luscombe of Greenpeace. ``It's obviously good that the United States has agreed to sign and ratify. But, of course, they should also take their other international commitments just as seriously,'' he said.

- Reuters