POPs: Internationally Recognized Environmental Toxics

Why should you care? Because these chemicals damage all living things

A group of toxic chemicals of similar compositions appear in wastes, industrial chemicals, pesticides, and home products.  They have similar pathways through the environment, and have similar damaging effects on human and animal health. These chemicals are called Persistent Organic Pollutants, or POPs. As defined by the Center for International Environmental Law, POPs are a class of chemicals that 1), persist in the environment, 2), are capable of long-range transport, 3), accumulate in human and animal tissue, and 4), have significant impacts on human health and the environment. In the environment, concentrations of these substances can increase by factors of many thousands or millions as they move up the food chain; for example, from copepods in the ocean, to krill, to mackerel, to tuna, and then to humans. POPs are major toxic contaminants in orcas (“killer whales”) and polar bears.

In May 2004 the Stockholm Convention on POPs banned the pesticides aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, and toxaphene. In May 2009 the pesticides lindane and chlordecone were added, and perfluorooctanoic acid and brominated flame retardants were added to the list of banned substances.

Most POPs that have been studied are carcinogenic. Good evidence has been gathered associating human exposure to POPs with cancers and tumors at multiple sites; neurobehavioral impairment including learning disorders, reduced performance on standardized tests and changes in temperament; immune system changes; reproductive defects and sex-linked disorders; a shortened period of lactation in nursing mothers; and diseases such as endometriosis and increased incidence of diabetes. Particularly disturbing is the concentration of these substances in human tissue and breast milk. These substances can be passed to the developing fetus through the placenta and to the young infant through breast milk. Even at very minute concentrations (parts per trillion) these substances can have profound impacts on the development of the brain and reproductive system of children. Unknown to parents, their children are often born contaminated with toxic POP-type chemicals that can damage their health for years to come. This is a damning indictment of our industrial society!

Some governments have been acting to eliminate or reduce health hazards from chemical contaminants in the environment. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) is a historic treaty that will significantly reduce toxic threats to wildlife and people throughout the world. This binding international treaty has been ratified by about 100 of the 151 countries that signed it, but as of December 2010, the United States had not signed the treaty! That means that the U.S. is not bound to prohibit the use of these chemicals.

How can you avoid exposure to POP-type hazards to your family’s health? If you believe that you must use pesticides in your garden or on your lawn, read the ingredients and do not buy those that contain any of the identified substances. Check your furniture, and bedding for foam that contains flame retardants, and replace them. Do not use microwave popcorn (see post of October 15, 2010) and do not buy carpeting that contains soil and stain resistant treatments (see post of October 20, 2010 ).


About donlouis

The author has long had a keen interest in staying healthy and fit, and in doing whatever I can to keep the natural environment unpolluted and a healthy space for people and all animals. As a former Board Member of a municipal water district, I regularly had to deal with the issue of water quality. I first became aware of radiation hazards from toxic materials while working on uranium for nuclear reactors. During the 1960s I was tuned into the global hazard from Strontium 90 raining down from atmospheric testing of nuclear bombs. While working in the chemical industry in later years I became aware of the many forms of chemical contaminants entering the environment every day, and resolved to do something about it. I am able to make sense out of the voluminous descriptions of common toxic chemical because of my training in chemistry, with a Ph.D. degree and several decades of research and development work in the chemical industry. My training and experience enables me to present to readers reliable and current information on the topic of chemical hazards in the environment, and their threats to human health. All my life I have loved hiking and camping in nature. Skiing, river kayaking, and tennis have been my favorite physical activities. Nature photography is my artistic passion.
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