updated 5/18/2004 10:17:15 AM ET 2004-05-18T14:17:15

A global treaty phasing out a dozen highly toxic chemicals took effect Monday without the United States, though the Bush administration promised to abide by it.

The Senate has yet to ratify the treaty, and Congress hasn’t passed legislation to carry it out because of a disagreement over whether to add more toxic chemicals to the ban later. Nevertheless, the United States will comply with it “wherever we have the current legal authority,” said Claudia McMurray, deputy assistant secretary of state for environment.

The United Nations-sponsored Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, or POPs, aims to ban or severely restrict 12 chemicals commonly known as the “dirty dozen.” Among them are dioxins and DDT, a pesticide.

Bush backing
“We’re glad that the agreement has come into force, and there’s still strong support from the president on down for the United States becoming a party to it,” McMurray said.

President Bush, whose environmental stances came under attack within weeks of taking office, hailed the treaty as a major breakthrough in a pre-Earth Day speech in April 2001. A month later, the United States and 90 other countries signed the treaty, which Clinton Administration officials had negotiated.

France became the 50th nation to sign in February, 90 days before the treaty was to take effect. Klaus Toepfer, director of the U.N. Environment Program, said more than $500 million would be spent helping countries ban the chemicals.

Brooks Yeager, a vice president of World Wildlife Fund, said “whales, polar bears, birds of prey and people throughout the world will benefit.”

The 12 toxic chemicals tend to persist in the environment, travel long distances and accumulate in the food chain. They are PCBs, dioxins, furans, DDT and the pesticides aldrin, hexachlorobenzene, chlordane, mirex, toxaphene, dieldrin, endrin and heptachlor. Many of these, such as PCBs, have been linked to cancer and other diseases.

Some DDT use allowed
The use of DDT to combat malaria along World Health Organization guidelines would be allowed to continue in some countries until a safer means to control the disease are developed.

Although the chemicals are banned from production for use in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the authority to ban any U.S. chemical manufacturers from exporting them, McMurray said.

The administration, she said, will “push very hard in the next few months” to get Congress to approve legislation. “What we’re looking for here is to protect our own citizens against emissions from other countries,” she said.

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