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International Chemical Management

The international community has undertaken several efforts to address the relationship between human health and chemicals, including efforts to ensure that the entire cycle of chemical management – its production, use, and disposal – is conducted in ways that protect human health and the environment. The U.S. has signed several relevant treaties, but has not ratified them.

The 2001 Stockholm Convention is an agreement devoted to eliminating Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) worldwide. POPs are highly resistant to degradation in the environment and can spread worldwide, potentially contaminating environments and exposing organisms far from the initial chemical release. POPs accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals, and are known to be toxic across at least one health endpoint. The original Stockholm Convention identified 12 POPs for international action: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene, PCBs, Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDD), and Polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDF). In 2009, nine additional chemicals were recognized by the Stockholm Convention as POPs, including the pesticide lindane. The Stockholm Convention was formally adopted in Sweden in May 2001, and has been signed and ratified by more than 126 countries including most of Europe. The U.S. has signed the convention, but has yet to ratify it.

The 1998 Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals in International Trade (also called the PIC Convention) is an agreement designed to promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among Parties in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals. The convention went into force on 24th February 2004. The U.S. has signed the convention, but has yet to ratify it.

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was created in 1989 and is an agreement principally devoted to setting up a framework for controlling the movement of hazardous wastes across international borders. It also established criteria for environmentally sound waste management across national boundaries. The convention went into force May 5, 1992 and was signed by 168 countries, including most of Europe. The U.S. has signed the convention but has yet to ratify it, joining only Afghanistan and Haiti in non-ratification.

Physicians for Social Responsibility strongly supports these treaties. Further, PSR advocates that the U.S. work with the international community to develop a sustainable chemical policy that incorporates the following key criteria:

  • No data, no market: chemical manufacturers need to prove that their product is safe before manufacturing or selling it.
  • Regulations should be based on the precautionary principle, not risk.
  • There should be systematic phase out of known harmful chemicals that are carcinogenic, are mutagenic, are reproductive toxins, and are persistent and bio-accumulative toxic substances.
  • Known harmful chemicals should be substituted with those chemicals proven to be safer to human health.
  • "Right to know" regulations should be expanded to include chemicals in consumer products.
  • Regulation should be based on assessment of chemical groups rather than individual substances.
  • Industry should be responsible for testing and registering all chemicals produced in amounts greater than one ton by a defined date.

Read more about how chemicals are regulated in the U.S. here.

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