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September 14, 1999

DDT Complicates Debate on Pact to Ban Pesticides

By ELIZABETH OLSON

GENEVA, Switzerland -- Negotiators have hammered out a broad agreement to ban several toxic chemicals and pesticides, but were unable to decide the fate of DDT because of its use as a cheap means to combat malaria.

A week of talks here among 115 nations striving for a treaty on hazardous substances produced a tentative accord that calls for production of eight chemicals to stop when the treaty takes effect.

Yet to be determined is how to handle DDT, which has divided environmentalists and public health specialists because of its usefulness against malaria.

DDT, which poses health risks to wildlife, particularly birds, and has been found in the milk of nursing mothers, has been banned in many industrial countries. But more than two dozen countries rely on the chemical for use against malaria, which kills 1.1 million people each year.

The World Health Organization urged negotiators to weigh DDT's dangers against its benefits.

The World Wide Fund for Nature, known as World Wildlife Fund in the United States, countered by issuing a study last week that concluded that lower-risk pesticides could be equally effective against malaria.

Environmentalists have now eased their demand for a firm date for DDT elimination.

In addition to DDT, negotiators failed to make progress on PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, which are industrial chemicals used in electric transformers and plastics and as paint additives.

The treaty is expected to be signed in Stockholm in 2001, after two more negotiating rounds.

Under the new accord, the pesticides to be eliminated without exemptions are aldrin, endrin, toxaphene. Five others -- the pesticides chlordane, dieldrin, heptachlor and mirex and the industrial byproduct hexachlorobenzene -- were chosen for elimination with limited exemptions.




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