Mediterranean Sea highly polluted by toxic chemicals | WWF
Mediterranean Sea highly polluted by toxic chemicals

Posted on 13 November 2003

A report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) gives, for the first time, a complete picture of the quantity of toxics released into the Mediterranean Sea.
Rome, Italy – At the 13th meeting of the Barcelona Convention for the protection of the Mediterranean Sea, in Catania, Sicily, a report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has given, for the first time, a complete picture of the quantity of toxics accumulated over the last years in the Mediterranean. Today, 16 environmental NGOs, including WWF, are presenting a petition calling on Mediterranean governments who still have not ratified the Land Based Sources of Pollution (LBS) Protocol, of the Barcelona Convention, to do so urgently. According to UNEP's Assessment of Transboundary Pollution Issues in the Mediterranean Sea, every year about 55 tons of lindane — a substance forbidden within the EU in the early 1990s — are poured in the sea. Lindane is one of the so-called POPs (persistent organic pollutants), a group of 12 extremely toxic pesticides and industrial chemicals including PCBs, dioxins, and DDT. Reported affects of these chemicals include carcinogenic, immunodepressant, and endocrine disruption activities in both animal and humans. "The data provided by UNEP give, for the first time, a complete picture of the threats posed to marine life and humans in the mare nostrum. The presence of highly polluting substances in the Mediterranean is all the more dangerous, as it is an enclosed sea where almost a century is needed to renew the water," declared Paolo Guglielmi, Head of the Marine Unit at WWF's Mediterranean Programme. According to the UNEP report’s estimates, France has released the highest amounts of chlorinated pesticides, except for lindane, in the Mediterranean. Italy holds second position behind France in the production of dioxins, followed by Spain, Greece, and Portugal. The study shows that approximately two-thirds of the dioxins come from industrial activities. Italy ranks first in sea pollution by heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, copper, and zinc, releasing 30 per cent of the total of these substances found in the Mediterranean Sea. Each year, Italy produces 2,174 tons of lead (compared to 944 tons by Spain and 868 tons by France); 30 tons of cadmium (compared to 14 tons by Spain and 12 tons by France); 8,576 tons of copper (compared to 2,220 by Turkey and 1,950 tons by Serbia); 1,949 tons of zinc (compared to 1,804 tons by Serbia and 1,310 tons by France). Italy and Greece both released 13 tons of mercury, the most dangerous heavy metal for the environment and human health, into the Mediterranean Sea in 1999, with Spain releasing a further 18 tons and France a further 17 tons. The implementation of the LBS protocol, which has been ready to be put in place since 1996, would prevent such high levels of organic pollutants being released. In a joint petition presented today to the 21 Mediterranean Ministers and delegates, 16 environmental NGOs stress that though efforts of most Mediterranean countries to implement the LBS Protocol are appreciated, Algeria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Serbia Montenegro and Syria still have to ratify the Protocol. Of these countries, only 3 signatures are needed to allow the LBS Protocol to be legally binding for the Mediterranean countries which have adopted the Barcelona Convention. The NGOs urge these countries to proceed as soon as possible and not later than the next 6 months, in order to allow this legislative framework to enter into force. "The Mediterranean states can no longer ignore the quantity of accumulated toxics poured in their Sea. The legal instrument exists and we urge governments to make it operational through the full ratification of the LBS Protocol. Eighty per cent of Mediterranean Sea pollution comes from land, and POPs are the most dangerous of the threats," added Paolo Guglielmi. For further information: Chantal Ménard Communications department, WWF Mediterranean Programme Tel: +39 06 844 97 417 E-mail: NGOs who have signed the petition • Amici per la Vita - Italy • CEDIP - Italy • Clean up Greece • Friends of the Earth • Greenpeace • HELMEPA - Greece • IEF • Marevivo - Italy • MEDASSET - Greece • MIO - ECSDE • Mouvement Ecologique Algerien • OCOME - Tunisia • SAD AFAG - Turkey • SPNI - Israel • UNASD - Lebanon • WWF Notes to Editors The Barcelona Convention is the legal framework of the MAP, adopted by the Mediterranean States and the EC in Barcelona in 1975 under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The Barcelona Convention was then revised in 1995 to give a legal status to the commitments made by the countries attending the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. So far, only 8 countries (Croatia, Egypt, France, Italy, Malta, Monaco, Spain and Tunisia) and the European Union have ratified the amendments adopted in 1995. Ratification from other 7 Mediterranean countries is needed for the amendments to enter into force. Since 1975, the so called Barcelona system has given rise to six legal initiatives or Protocols that are binding legal instruments addressing specific aspects of environmental protection. The LBS Protocol is one of the six Protocols of the Barcelona Convention and its general obligations include the following points: “1. The Parties undertake to eliminate pollution deriving from land-based sources and activities, in particular to phase out inputs of the substances that are toxic, persistent and liable to bioaccumulate. 2. To this end, they shall elaborate and implement, individually or jointly, as appropriate, national and regional action plans and programmes, containing measures and timetables for their implementation. 3. The priorities and timetables for implementing the action plans, programmes and measures shall be adopted by the Parties shall be periodically reviewed. 4. When adopting action plans, programmes and measures, the Parties shall take into account, either individually or jointly, the best available techniques and the best environmental practice including, where appropriate, clean production technologies. 5. The Parties shall take preventive measures to reduce to the minimum the risk of pollution caused by accidents”.
Thousands of tons of toxic chemicals have reached the Mediterannean Sea.
© WWF / Michel Gunther