Monday, March 8, 2010

The Rotterdam Convention, Prior Informed Consent, and TSCA Chemical Reform

At last Thursday's House Subcommittee hearing on TSCA Reform, both Jim Jones of EPA and John Thompson of the Department of State mentioned that they thought the US should ratify three international agreements. Previously I took a look at the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Today I'll examine the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent.

The text of the Rotterdam Convention was adopted in September 1998 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and it entered into force in February 2004. It covers "pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons." It stipulates that "severely hazardous pesticide formulations that present a hazard under conditions of use in developing countries or countries with economies in transition may also be nominated for inclusion in Annex III." Once listed a "decision guidance document" must be prepared that defines how the chemical will be banned or severely restricted.

One of the most critical parts of the Convention is Prior Informed Consent, or PIC. This means that any country that intends to import the listed chemicals must be informed of the status of the chemicals in other countries, including that they have been banned and why. The PIC provision is especially important for developing countries that may not have as robust a regulatory safety infrastructure to protect them from being a dumping ground for dangerous chemicals that are banned elsewhere.

Currently there are 40 chemicals listed in Annex III of the Convention and subject to the PIC procedure, including 25 pesticides, 4 severely hazardous pesticide formulations and 11 industrial chemicals. Many more chemicals are expected to be added in the future.

Like the other international agreements, the US helped negotiate it but Congress never ratified it. And so we can observe the preceedings but cannot vote when other countries want to add chemicals to the list. Ratifying the agreement will not only allow the US to better look out for our interests, it will also demonstrate that we are taking a place of leadership in our international obligations.

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