Toxic chemicals highly polluting the Mediterranean: environmental NGOs call Mediterranean states for urgent action | WWF

Toxic chemicals highly polluting the Mediterranean: environmental NGOs call Mediterranean states for urgent action

Posted on
13 November 2003

According to the UNEP's Assessment of Transboundary Pollution Issues in the Mediterranean sea, every year about 55 tons of lindane - a substance forbidden within the EU in the early 90s - are poured in the sea. Lindane is one of the so-called POPs (persistent organic pollutants). POPs refer to the group of 12 extremely toxic pesticides and industrial chemicals including PCBs, dioxins, and DDT. Reported consequences of these substances induce cancerogenous, immunodepressant and endocrine disruption processes in both animal and human beings. “The data provided by the UNEP gives for the first time a complete picture of the threats posed to marine life and humans in the mare nostrum. The presence of highly polluting substances in the Mediterranean is all the more dangerous as it is an enclosed sea where almost a century is needed to renew the water”, has declared Paolo Guglielmi, Head of the Marine Unit at WWF Mediterranean. As far as the responsibility of Mediterranean countries is concerned, according to the UNEP report’s estimates, France would be the country which has released the highest amounts of chlorinated pesticides, except for lindane, in the Mediterranean. Italy holds second position behind France in the production of dioxins, followed by Spain, Greece and Portugal. The study shows that approximately two-thirds of the dioxins come from industrial activities. Even if the quantity of dioxins may have decreased over the last years, France would have emitted between 804 and 949 tons in 2000, against 1,300 in 1995. Italy ranks first in sea pollution by heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, copper and zinc, releasing 30% of the total of these substances found in the Mediterranean Sea, which means 2,174 tons of lead (against 944 by Spain and 868 by France); 30 tons of cadmium (14 by Spain and 12 by France); 8,576 tons of copper (2,220 by Turkey and 1,950 by Serbia); 1,949 tons of zinc (1,804 by Serbia and 1,310 by France) produced annually by Italy. As for mercury, the most dangerous heavy metal for the environment and human health, 13 tons were released in the Mediterranean by Italy and Greece each, 18 by Spain and 17 by France in 1999. The implementation of the LBS protocol would prevent such high emissions of organic pollutants and is ready to be put in place since 1996. In a joint petition presented today to the 21 Mediterranean Ministers and delegates, 16 environmental NGOs stress that though efforts of most Mediterranean countries to implement the LBS Protocol are appreciated, Algeria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Serbia Montenegro and Syria still have to ratify the Protocol. Of these countries, only 3 signatures are needed to allow the LBS Protocol to be legally binding for the Mediterranean countries which have adopted the Barcelona Convention. The NGOs urge these countries to proceed as soon as possible and not later than the next 6 months, in order to allow this legislative framework to enter into force. “The Mediterranean states can no longer ignore the quantity of accumulated toxics poured in their Sea. The legal instrument exists and we urge governments to make it operational through the full ratification of the LBS Protocol. 80% of Mediterranean sea pollution comes from land and POPs are the most dangerous of the threats”, added Paolo Guglielmi. For further information: Chantal Ménard, Communications department, WWF Mediterranean Tel : +39 06 844 97 417 e-mail : NGOs who have signed the petition • Amici per la Vita - Italy • CEDIP - Italy • Clean up Greece • Friends of the Earth • Greenpeace • HELMEPA - Greece • IEF • Marevivo - Italy • MEDASSET - Greece • MIO - ECSDE • Mouvement Ecologique Algerien • OCOME - Tunisia • SAD AFAG - Turkey • SPNI - Israel • UNASD - Lebanon • WWF Notes to Editors The Barcelona Convention is the legal framework of the MAP, adopted by the Mediterranean States and the EC in Barcelona in 1975 under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The Barcelona Convention was then revised in 1995 to give a legal status to the commitments made by the countries attending the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. So far, only 8 countries (Croatia, Egypt, France, Italy, Malta, Monaco, Spain and Tunisia) and the European Union have ratified the amendments adopted in 1995. Ratification from other 7 Mediterranean countries is needed for the amendments to enter into force. Since 1975, the so called Barcelona system has given rise to six legal initiatives or Protocols that are binding legal instruments addressing specific aspects of environmental protection. The LBS Protocol is one of the six Protocols of the Barcelona Convention and its general obligations include the following points: “1. The Parties undertake to eliminate pollution deriving from land-based sources and activities, in particular to phase out inputs of the substances that are toxic, persistent and liable to bioaccumulate. 2. To this end, they shall elaborate and implement, individually or jointly, as appropriate, national and regional action plans and programmes, containing measures and timetables for their implementation. 3. The priorities and timetables for implementing the action plans, programmes and measures shall be adopted by the Parties shall be periodically reviewed. 4. When adopting action plans, programmes and measures, the Parties shall take into account, either individually or jointly, the best available techniques and the best environmental practice including, where appropriate, clean production technologies. 5. The Parties shall take preventive measures to reduce to the minimum the risk of pollution caused by accidents”.