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Toxic Chemicals to Be Phased Out

 China will begin to implement the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), Thursday.

This marks the start of hard effort to rid the country of highly dangerous pesticides and other hazardous chemicals.

"China will take every necessary measure to fully implement the convention, as it is beneficial not only to the sustainable development of China but also to that of the world," said Wang Jirong, vice minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).

However, he acknowledged that it is extremely hard work, as the country is fighting severe and longstanding environmental problems such as water pollution, acid rain and urban air pollution nationwide. China also currently lacks technology, sufficient funds and even laws to effectively tackle POPs.

Of all the pollutants released into the environment every year by human activity, POPs are among the most dangerous. They are highly toxic, with an array of adverse effects including cancer, allergies and hypersensitivity, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, reproductive disorders, disruption of the immune system and birth defects. Death and disease in animals can also be caused by them.

According to the United Nations Environment Program, every human in the world carries traces of POPs in his or her body. POPs are highly stable compounds that can last for years or decades before breaking down. They circulate globally through a process known as the "grasshopper effect."

To deal with the global problem, a convention on POPs was passed at a meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, in May 2001, and has been signed by 151 countries and ratified by 83 countries including China.

The treaty requires that all parties to take necessary steps to ban the production and use of some of the most toxic chemicals.

The 12 initial POPs to be targeted are: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene, polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs), hexachlorobenzene (HCB), dioxins and furans.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to most POPs. The problem has been that high costs, a lack of public awareness and the absence of appropriate infrastructure and technology have often prevented their adoption. This is especially true in China.

Of all the nine pesticides in the initial list, four are still produced and used in China: DDT, HCB, chlordane and mirex.

A large amount of discarded PCBs, which are mainly used in electric appliances and the production of paints, has not been disposed of effectively and leaking has been reported in some storage sites.

Meanwhile, pollution from dioxins and furans generated in processes such as papermaking, metal production and waste incineration is also significant, as the country's economy grows at a high speed.

"China can produce some alternatives to POPs, but farmers and businesses are reluctant to use them because the prices are too high," said Zhang Qingfeng, an official of SEPA.

It is also very difficult to make a list of or locate the sources of POPs, he said, estimating that it could cost at least 400 million US dollars to get a clear picture of the situation across the country.

Another major challenge is the lack of public awareness, because most people in the country have little knowledge of what POPs are, he said.

"Despite the challenges, China will firmly go ahead with the adoption of the Stockholm convention," Wang said, adding that a number of institutions for the purpose had been set up, including the Steering Group for Compilation of China National Implementation Plan that consists of SEPA and 10 other government departments.

He called for more international support in terms of funds and technologies to help the largest developing country in the world fulfill the obligations designated in the convention.

(Xinhua News Agency November 11, 2004)

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