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New rules on organic pollutants kick in
By Qin Chuan (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-11-11 00:42

The Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) comes into effect in China today.

Environmental officials and experts said China's national plan for implementing the convention will come out in 2006 and be put into practice as soon as possible.

China received US$13 million from the Global Environment Facilities to develop the plan, said Zhang Qingfeng with the office for the implementation of the POPs convention.

The office, under the State Environmental Protection Administration, was officially set up in March following preparations that began last April.

Officials say a lack of funds and know-how will make it hard for China to meet the convention signed by 151 countries in May 2001.

The Stockholm Convention took effect on May 17 this year with 83 countries having ratified it so far.

The Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress, China's top legislature, ratified it on June 25.

POPs are highly toxic chemical substances that threaten human health and the environment, said Xie Shaodong, an expert with the department of environment sciences of the Beijing-based Tsinghua University.

The pollutants can enter the food chain and seriously damage human health, he said.

POPs can also move by air and water, causing global pollution.

Well-known POPs are DDT, widely used to combat malaria in Africa, and PCBs, used as electrical insulators in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment.

The convention aims to initially control 12 POPs, including nine pesticides PCBs, and two unintentional by-products -- dioxins and furans, which are generated during heating and incineration.

Zhang said it will be tough to educate the public on POPs, whose damage is prone to be ignored.

The current status of POPs in China is vague and the monitoring and evaluation system is not perfect, he said.

For example, records of PCBs have been lost in large quantity in the past years and it is hard now to find them.

There have been reports about pollution accidents occurring at sites where discarded electrical equipment with PCBs was once buried.

Zhang said China lacks techniques to phase-out some POPs.

The country is also short of funds for implementing the convention.

Zhang said US$400 million will be needed just to eliminate PCBs in the country.

Efforts will be made to establish where and how POPs are produced, used, imported, exported, stored, and discarded as well as determining how they pollute and the damage they cause, Zhang said. Phase-out plans will then be developed.

A list and database of equipment with PCBs still in use or discarded will be created.

Such equipments will be gradually eliminated and all places that are polluted by PCBs will be cleared before 2008.

Major sources of dioxins and furans will be spotted and techniques and practices will be sought to reduce emissions.

Other measures will include strengthening research on POPs and setting up matching policies and standards to support the national implementation plan, Zhang added.

According to Luo Gaolai, vice head of the implementation office, China has taken a series of actions to control POPs.

Such actions include establishing a national task force on POPs and organizing a number of international forums.

International aid has also been sought.

Gao said China is working with countries such as Italy and Canada.

5 POPs still produced, used in country

China has five years to stop production of four pollutants targeted as part of international efforts to clean up the environment.

The Stockholm Convention lists 12 persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that should be eliminated to preserve the environment. Five of them are still produced in China.

The Stockholm Convention, signed by 151 countries and ratified by 83, aims to eliminate POPs, which are highly insidious pollutants.

In China, the convention took effect yesterday, but the country has applied for immunity which would allow it to continue producing DDT, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), chlordane and mirex for another five years, said Yue Runsheng, vice head of international co-operation under the State Environmental Protection Administration.

That would give China five years to stop production and use of the four.

China can apply for another five-year term, but no further exemptions are allowed.

The country has been making efforts to control the five pollutants, said an administration source.

DDT is mainly used in pesticides while small amounts are used in mosquito repellent, incense and some medical storage. There are two DDT manufacturers in China, with a total annual output of about 4,000 tons, said Zang Wenchao, of the administration's pollution control department.Only one company still produces about 2,000 tons of HCB every year, Zang said.

HCB is used to produce sodium pentachlorophenate, a medicine.

Chlordane and mirex are both used to kill destructive white ants and are more widely produced. There are nine chlordane manufacturers with an output of 500 to 800 tons per year, while up to 30 tons of mirex are put out by five producers.

Still other POPs listed in the convention for which China is not seeking immunity, may be harder to eliminate.

PCBs are one, particularly considering the amount in circulation is difficult to pinpoint because electrical components with PCBs are still circulating but no longer in production.

Zang said China stopped production years ago and most electrical equipments containing PCBs has been discarded. However, officials and researchers are not very clear of where such PCBs are and how much of them exist.

Another two, dioxins and furans, are inevitably generated by heating and incineration. They are mainly caused by the smelting industry, incineration of garbage, the paper making industry and the chemical industry.

Experts say to date there is no way to reduce and eliminate them.

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