Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Global Threat of Persistent Organic Pollutants

Brandon Turbeville
Activist Post
June 24, 2013

In my past two articles I have discussed the connection between pesticides, both general and POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants), to a myriad of adverse health effects such as cancer and neurological disorders, particularly Parkinson’s Disease. For these reasons alone, it is important to look at the standards currently set for such chemicals by the international standard-setting organization known as Codex Alimentarius.

As I mentioned in the first article in this series, I will distinguish between two different types of pesticides for the sole purpose of the topic of discussing Codex Alimentarius guidelines – general pesticides and POPs. General pesticides should be recognized as, quite simply, those pesticides not considered a Persistent Organic Pollutant by the Stockholm Convention. General pesticides are those which are most widely used since the Stockholm Convention actually banned the use of POPs altogether. Nevertheless, it is important to make the distinction for the purpose of clearly understanding Codex guidelines in this regard.

The term Persistent Organic Pollutant applies to specific types of pesticides and chemicals. These substances have been used mostly in pest control, “disease control,” agriculture, and other different industries. The EPA distinguishes between two different types of POPs in terms of their production – intentional and unintentional. Intentionally produced POPs are those which are produced for the purpose of being used in manufacturing, agriculture, pest/disease control, or other industrial uses. To put it quite simply, intentionally produced POPs are those that are produced intentionally.

Unintentionally produced POPs are those that are essentially byproducts of industrial processes or combustion (like the incineration of waste) etc.[1]

The chemical in question has to meet fairly stringent requirements in order to obtain the status of POP, however. Additionally, the label “organic” means the chemicals must be carbon-based (organic) substances.

According the website of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, they must also meet the following requirements.

They possess a particular combination of physical and chemical properties such that, once released into the environment, they:
  • Remain intact for exceptionally long periods of time (many years);
  • Become widely distributed throughout the environment as a result of natural processes involving soil, water and, most notably, air;
  • Accumulate in the fatty tissue of living organisms including humans, and are found at higher concentrations at higher levels in the food chain; and
  • Are toxic to both humans and animals. [2]
Initially, the Stockholm Convention, the United Nations treaty that requires nations to cease or reduce the production, application, and release of POPs, distinguished 12 substances as those that should be eliminated. This treaty places the POPs into 3 different categories: pesticides, industrial chemicals, and by-products. POPs and their categories are listed below:
Pesticides: Aldrin; Chlordane; Dichlorodiphenyl tricholoreothane (DDT); Dieldrin; Endrin; Heptachlor; Hexachlorobenzene; Mirex; Toxaphene; 
Industrial Chemicals: Hexachlorobenzene; Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) 
By-Products: Hexachlorobenzene; Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins; Polychlorinated Dibenzofurans; PCBs[3]
In May 2009, the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention agreed to add 9 new chemicals to the list of POPs.[4] They are as follows:
Pesticides: Chlordecone; Alpha Hexcholorocyclohexane; Beta Hexachlorocyclohexane; Lindane; Pentachlorobenzene; 
Industrial Chemicals: Hexabromobiphenyl; Hexabromodiphenyl ether/Heptabromodiphenyl ether; Pentachlorobenzene; Pefluorooctane Sulfonic Acid, its salts, and Perfluorooctane Sulfonyl Fluoride; Tetrabromodiphenyl ether, Pentabromodiphenyl ether 
By-Products: Alpha Hexachlorocyclohexane; Beta Hexachlorohexane; Pentachlorobenzene; [5]
The major difference between general pesticides and POPs is not necessarily in their level of danger but the fact that they meet the guidelines listed above and that they remain intact for long periods of time, become widely distributed, and accumulate in fatty tissue.

The accumulation of POPs in fatty tissue is at the heart of the problem with these chemicals due to the fact that they can pose an even more serious threat to predators at the top of the food chain than those at the bottom. This is due to the process known as biomagnification, where POPs accumulate in the fatty tissue of organisms and become more and more concentrated as they move from one organism to the other. As they work their way through the food chain, becoming more and more contaminated as they move along, those organisms at the very top of the food chain will be ingesting the largest amounts of the chemicals. It is for this reason that even small releases of POPs can be disastrous, especially for localized ecosystems that dine on local game/fish.

An example cited on the EPA’s website reflects on a study conducted by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, where it was found that caribou in the Northwest Territories of Canada had as much as 10 times the amounts of PCBs as the lichen that they ate. Not only that, but the wolves that dined on the caribou contained 60 times the amount of PCBs as the lichen.[6]

The adverse effects of POPs on wildlife are very similar to those on humans. Studies conducted on wildlife communities showed “reproductive, developmental, endocrine, immunologic, and carcinogenic effects.”[7] Other studies have shown further connections between thyroid and estrogen disorders.[8] Marine animals warrant a particular concern due to the fact that POPs have low water solubility and therefore bond easily with particulate matter in sediment. This gives them the ability to lay dormant for a long time in the water supply, becoming active again when disturbed years later.

Not only that, but the fact that POPs do not have to be directly applied to an area or species to be present or have an effect on these organisms creates a pollution problem that knows no boundaries. The discovery of POPs in the Alaskan Arctic, thousands of miles away from any known source, is a prime example of this. It is well-known that POP compounds can attach themselves not only to aquatic sediment material, but also to airborne particles. Along with the ability of most POPs to exist as gases, this allows them to have increased ability to travel long distances and potentially pollute the entire globe.

Some of these chemicals are able to evaporate from land and water sources into the air, and return to the earth in rain, snow, and mist. Add to this the transportability of the POPs by airborne and aquatic means, as well as by the very human and animal organisms being contaminated by them, and one can easily see the problem posed here.[9]

However, it should be noted that although only 21 of these substances are listed as POPs, the potential for any of the thousands more combinations of chemicals to do the same is still very real.

[1] “Persistant Organic Pollutants: A Global Issue, A Global Response.” Environmental Protection Agency. December 17, 2009.http://www.epa.gov/international/toxics/pop.htm
[2] “What are POPs?” Stockholm Convention on persistant organic pollutants. Accessed March 23, 2010. http://chm.pops.int/Convention/ThePOPs/tabid/673/language/en-US/Default.aspx
[3] “What are POPs?” Stockholm Convention on persistant organic pollutants. http://chm.pops.int/Convention/ThePOPs/tabid/673/language/en-US/Default.aspx Accessed March 23, 2010.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] “Persistant Organic Pollutants: A Global Issue, A Global Response.” Environmental Protection Agency. December 17, 2009.http://www.epa.gov/international/toxics/pop.htm
[7] Abelsohn, Alan., Gibson, Brian L., Sanborn, Margaret D., Weir, Erica. “Identifying and managing adverse environmental health effects:5. Persistant Organic Pollutants.” Canadian Medical Association Journal. June 11, 2002. 166 (12). http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/166/12/1549 Accessed May 24, 2010.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.

Read other articles by Brandon Turbeville here.

Brandon Turbeville is an author out of Florence, South Carolina. He has a Bachelor's Degree from Francis Marion University and is the author of three books, Codex Alimentarius -- The End of Health Freedom, 7 Real Conspiracies, and Five Sense Solutions and Dispatches From a Dissident. Turbeville has published over 200 articles dealing on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, and civil liberties. Brandon Turbeville's podcast Truth on The Tracks can be found every Monday night 9 pm EST at UCYTV.  He is available for radio and TV interviews. Please contact activistpost (at) gmail.com.

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