The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP

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Joint Media Release

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer and Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Robert Hill
16 May 2001

Australia to Sign Agreement to Reduce Toxic Pollution

Australia will sign an international agreement to reduce toxic pollution from persistent organic pollutants, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Robert Hill, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer announced today.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are chemicals that are toxic, persist in the environment, accumulate in the food chain and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment.

Senator Hill said global action to reduce releases of POPs was necessary as they could be found in regions where they had never been used or produced and therefore posed a threat to the environment of the whole globe.

Mr Downer said Australia had already implemented stringent domestic measures, consistent with the international agreement, to reduce and control POPs.  The agreement would help developing countries, including those in the Asia Pacific region, to manage POPs appropriately and would complement Australian assistance already provided in this area.

Canada, Sweden and the United States are also planning to sign the POPs agreement at a conference to be held in Stockholm on 22-23 May.

The POPs agreement sets out control measures applying to 12 chemicals - aldrin, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, chlordane, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and furans.

Australia has already stopped producing and using most of the chemicals included in the agreement (aldrin, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, chlordane, HCB, heptachlor, toxaphene and PCBs).  Mirex is still used under licence in small quantities in northern Australia and research is under way to find a suitable alternative.  Consistent with the POPs agreement, which allows for some limited exemptions, Australia has lodged an exemption for mirex use.  The Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) already has in place agreed plans to manage waste from the use of commercially produced PCBs, HCB and organochlorine pesticides.  Environmental agencies in Australia and New Zealand are developing a dioxin management strategy for ANZECC to consider later this year.

The agreement also includes provisions to nominate chemicals which appear to have similar toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative properties to the 12 existing POPs.  Nominated chemicals would be subject to a rigorous science-based review and assessment process.  Consistent with Australian Government negotiating objectives, the agreement addresses public health and environmental concerns, and takes into account Australia's particular agricultural and industrial circumstances. 

The Government will continue to consult with interested stakeholders on future implementation of the agreement. Before moving to consideration of ratification, the government will, as is usual practice on treaty-making decisions, consult widely and ask JSCOT to consider the Convention text.

Contacts:  Belinda Huppatz (Senator Hill) 08 8237 7920
Matt Francis (Mr Downer) 02 6277 7500 or

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