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U.S. to sign global ban on 'dirty dozen' toxins

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell participated in the White House event.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As part of the administration's push to highlight what it says is a responsible environmental policy, President Bush said Thursday the United States will sign a global treaty calling for the elimination of a dozen highly toxic chemicals such as DDT and other pesticides.

The treaty, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, is due to be signed by the United States and some 50 other nations late next month in the Swedish capital.

"I am pleased to announce my support for the treaty, and the intention of our government to sign it and submit it to the Senate for ratification," Bush said Thursday morning in a short address from the Rose Garden.

Environmental issues

Bush was joined under sunny skies in the Rose Garden By Secretary of State Colin Powell and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman, who expressed elation over the prospect of representing the newly announced U.S. position at next month's Stockholm meeting.

Whitman said she has been quizzed by many foreign governments in recent weeks about the new administration's position on the treaty. Negotiations were first conducted by representatives of the Clinton administration.

"This treaty achieves a goal shared by this administration," Bush said Thursday, adding praise for the Clinton operatives who began the process.

The Stockholm Convention seeks the worldwide phaseout of "persistent organic pollutants," or POPs, including PCBs, dioxins, DDT and other pesticides.

There are 12 chemicals on the treaty's list, and Bush referred to them Thursday as "the dirty dozen."

The accord was crafted in December under the auspices of the U.N. Environment Program.

The substances are called "persistent" because they take a long time to break down when they enter the environment, and the cumulative effect can lead to high concentrations and increased risk from exposure.

"These pollutants are linked to developmental defects, cancer and other grave problems in humans and animals," Bush said. "The risks are great, and the need for action is clear. We must work to eliminate or at least severely restrict the release of these toxins without delay."

Whitman said the listed chemical compounds have been found to be responsible for a series of biological mishaps, including, cancer, central nervous system damage, immune system disruptions, and reproductive disorders.

"They are, in fact, lethal," she said.

Not all the chemicals on the list are pesticides. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were used as a coolant and insulation in electrical transformers and other devices. The pesticides on the list are aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene and hexachlorobenzene.

The pact, which requires ratification by 50 countries to take effect, would ban the production and use of nine of the 12 chemicals once it is implemented.

Releases of dioxins and other toxic byproducts from waste burning and industrial production would be cut back and eliminated where possible, but use of DDT would be allowed to continue in some African nations to halt the spread of malaria, until a cost-effective alternative is identified.

"Our experience has shown that effective, safe substitutes to these chemicals do exist," Whitman said.

Under the treaty, an international fund would be created to help countries develop substitutes for these chemicals. The treaty also allows chemicals to be added to the phase-out list after a thorough scientific review.

The president's announcement is the latest in a series of decisions the White House has highlighted after earlier administration environmental decisions came under fire from domestic environmental advocacy groups and international governments.

"Global environmental protection is an important part of this administration's foreign policy agenda," Powell said, pointing out that traces of PCBs and other such pollutants have often been detected thousands of miles from their point of origin.

On Wednesday, the administration announced it would conduct a study to look into the impact of placing limits on arsenic in drinking water.

Since Friday, the White House said it was upholding three of four regulations implemented in the waning days of the Clinton administration, such as requiring more businesses to report the amount of lead they release into the environment, and protecting wetlands from development.

Senior administration officials told CNN Tuesday they stand by the president's decisions, but at the same time they conceded the White House could have done a better job over the past several weeks by offsetting decisions environmentalists might criticize with decisions that are viewed as environmentally friendly.

CNN's Kelly Wallace and Ian Christopher McCaleb contributed to this report.

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United States Environmental Protection Agency
United Nations Environment Programme
  • Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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