Amsterdam, November 21, 2002 – Negotiations on a new international treaty to increase the public’s right-to-know on sources of pollution enter the final stages with a United Nations meeting in Geneva next week. But environmentalists are warning that key chemicals and radioactive waste are likely to be excluded from the treaty, following lobbying from industry and the conservative positions taken by governments.

Delegates are discussing the new protocol under the 1998 Aarhus “public participation” Convention, which will require participating countries to collect and publish information on quantities of pollutants released from certain industrial sources and probably from diffuse sources such as traffic. The meeting follows a two-year process involving countries from Europe, Central Asia, the US and Canada, as well as representatives from environmental NGOs, including Friends of the Earth, and representatives from the chemical industry (CEFIC).

The information will be compiled in to “Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers” or “PRTRs”. Such registers are already used in the UK and US and are believed to have helped drive down pollution levels and provided both the public and authorities with useful information.

A number of key issues are still to be resolved, including which chemicals are to be listed, with suggestions that many chemicals linked to cancer should be excluded. Decisions are also still to be made as to whether the disposal or storage of hazardous chemicals on-site should be included. The exact list of industries and activities covered is also still to be finalised, but countries are overwhelmingly opposed to the inclusion of nuclear facilities under the treaty.

Environmentalists have pushed for a more ambitious treaty, whilst recognising that a comprehensive pollution register cannot be achieved in one single stage. But European Union countries have opposed the more ambitious elements proposed in the initial draft.

Friends of the Earth Pollution Researcher, Mary Taylor, speaking for the NGO coalition European ECO Forum, said : “The protocol should be a step forward for many countries, but the lack of ambition – particularly from the EU – is dismal. The public should have the right to know what chemicals are being discharged by companies and where they are being stored. Protecting certain sectors such as the nuclear industry from public scrutiny, or avoiding the inclusion of cancer-causing chemicals, is scandalous.”

Friends of the Earth
Pollution Researcher Mary Taylor at +44-20-7566 1687 or + 44-1223-709942 (today only)