Geneva, November 25, 2002 – Negotiations on a new international treaty to increase the public’s right-to-know on sources of pollution enter the final stages at a United Nations meeting in Geneva which began this morning – but the United States has said it will not participate.

The US had taken part in earlier discussions on the treaty, but in an announcement to the assembled delegates today, the US stated that it would not formally join negotiations, citing their “concerns” that the text was not adequately addressing “essential elements” including public access to chemical-specific information concerning transfers of wastes. The decision comes as a blow to environmentalists, since the US has a well-established system of pollution reporting, the “Toxics Release Inventory.”

Friends of the Earth Pollution Researcher, Mary Taylor, speaking for the NGO coalition European ECO Forum, said:

“This is very disappointing news. The US departure increases the likelihood that this new right-to-know law will be a weak instrument, and unfortunately strengthens the EU countries’ hand. Issues now at risk include draft text concerning the public’s right to know about on-site disposal and off-site destinations of hazardous wastes.”

Canada has said it will participate fully in the negotations, but signalled that signing the Protocol could not be taken for granted. As the meeting began, Canada said it was unhappy with draft text linking pollution reporting to individual rights to a healthy environment.

Negotiations will continue throughout this week.

Delegates are discussing a 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 eventually 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.

Friends of the Earth UK
Mary Taylor (in Geneva) (mobile): +44 (0) 7766 71 1952
Media unit (London): +44 (0) 20 7566 1649