Moves on to ban use of lindane

Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: With the last Conference of Parties under the Stockholm Convention proposing to include lindane, a highly toxic chemical, in the list of 12 Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP), its use could be banned in the next two to three years. The POP Review Committee is studying this pesticide along with four other chemicals recommended to be included in the POP list. Lindane is widely produced and used in India and has been proved to have an adverse impact on the health and environment.

The proposal for listing lindane under POP was mooted by Mexico at the Uruguay Conference of Parties held in Uruguay in May 2005. The review committee will study the profile of the chemical, its harmful effects and its presence in the human body, following which the social and economic cost of the elimination of the chemical and its possible alternatives would be looked into. "This process will take about three years but then countries can take exemption on various grounds like India has done for the use of DDT, used for malaria prevention," Ravi Agarwal of Toxics Links, a non-governmental organisation working in the field of environment, said.

Meanwhile, hot on the heels of India deciding to ratify the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Stockholm Convention, which aims to reduce and eliminate 12 of the most toxic chemicals known to man, civil society groups from five South Asian countries have gathered here to identify actions urgently needed to protect human health and environment from the adverse effects of POP.

Of immediate concern are chemicals such as DDT, widely used for malaria control, and dioxins and furans — unintended by-products of industrial processes and medical and municipal wastes, Mr. Agarwal said. Such chemicals enter the human body through the food chain, and transmit from generation-to-generation, causing severe health problems such as endocrine disruption, reproductive disorders and cancer. Often referred to as the `dirty dozen,' POPs include DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, chlordane, heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene, hexachlorobenzene, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins and furans.

"India or the region does not even have any reliable facilities to monitor or measure them. There is little data on stockpiles of such chemicals, despite studies showing environmental and food chain contamination in many places," he said. Indians have the highest levels of DDT in their bodies in the world. Data shows that POPs' widespread use for the past 100 years have led to serious environmental damage.

Recognising the existing gap, the workshop seeks to increase levels of awareness, understanding, and knowledge among various stakeholders, especially public interest organisations, concerning the status of POPs and their impact besides discussing sustainable and safer alternatives.