Issue Date: September 19, 2007
U.S. Withdraws From Chemical Safety Forum
The Bush Administration last week bowed out of an international effort on chemical safety.
The U.S. will no longer participate in the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS), according to a letter from the Department of State. The forum operates under the aegis of the World Health Organization and brings together national governments, United Nations organizations, and environmental and labor groups.
IFCS is designed to develop and promote strategies for and partnerships on the sound management of chemicals. The forum is an outgrowth of principles on chemicals management agreed to at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment & Development. IFCS has met formally every three years since its founding in 1994.
In the Sept. 12 letter to IFCS, Daniel T. Fantozzi, director of environmental policy at the State Department, explained that the U.S. is shifting its focus to a chemicals management accord forged in 2006. That agreement, the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), established guidelines for policies to govern the manufacture, transportation, use, and disposal of chemicals in ways that protect people's health and the environment. SAICM is aimed at developing countries without regulatory regimes for managing chemicals (C&EN, Feb. 27, 2006, page 31).
"We anticipate robust and substantial progress on chemicals management in SAICM," Fantozzi wrote to IFCS.
The U.S. withdrawal from the forum seems to contradict positions the Administration endorsed a year ago. IFCS Executive Secretary Judy A. Stober points out that the U.S., in consensus with other governments at two separate international meetings in 2006, encouraged the chemicals management forum to continue its work.
For instance, at the meeting where SAICM was adopted, the U.S. and other governments "invited IFCS to continue its important role in providing an open, transparent, and inclusive forum for discussing issues of common interest and also new and emerging issues and to continue to contribute through this to the implementation of SAICM," Stober tells C&EN.
Withdrawal from IFCS is consistent with the "Administration's policy of undermining the multilateral initiatives and institutions that are so important for protecting the global environment," said Jack Weinberg, global chemical safety program director at the Environmental Health Fund, a Massachusetts-based environmental group.
"It's the government's job to weigh all international organizations and decide which to participate in," says Garrity Baker, American Chemistry Council senior director for global affairs.
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