Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are organic chemical compounds that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically via air and water, and accumulate in fatty tissue in humans and wildlife. Exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants can lead to serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems and greater susceptibility to disease. These pollutants are primarily the products and by-products of human industrial processes.
Those of us living in the early 21st century inhabit a world where some of these substances – introduced as far back as the 1920’s and used more and more in the 1940’s and 1950’s – have been around for decades. Now they are in the tissues of every human being on Earth. There are traces within you, of several hundred man-made chemiclas.
The initial list of twelve POPs includes:
• Industrial chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) used in transformer oils;
• Pesticides like DDT, endrin, dieldrin, aldrin, chlordane, toxaphene, heptachlor, mirex, hexachlorobenzene (HCB); and
• Unwanted wastes like dioxins and furans.
(See the attachments at the end of the article for more information on the activities of the Persistent Organic Pollutants Project.)
How Persistent Organic Pollutants can be absorbed by humans and animals
• Humans can be exposed to POPs through diet, occupational accidents, and the environment. Exposure to very low doses of certain POPs can lead to cancer, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, diseases of the immune system, reproductive disorders, and interference with infant and child development.
• Human health impacts may be felt most acutely in populations that consume large amounts of fish (e.g., subsistence fishermen), since fish have a high fat content and thus can contain high concentrations of POPs.
• The accumulation of obsolete stockpiles of pesticides and toxic chemicals (particularly common in developing countries) can cause leaching of these chemicals into the soil, contaminating water resources used by both wildlife and people.
• There is sufficient evidence of harm to wildlife and humans to demonstrate that international action is required to reduce the risk of POPs to health and environment.
• POPs have the potential to injure humans and other organisms even at the very low concentrations at which they are now found in the environment, wildlife and humans. Some POPs in extraordinarily small amounts can disrupt normal biological functions, including the activity of natural hormones and other chemical messengers, triggering a cascade of potentially harmful effects.
• Persistent substances with these properties bioaccumulate in fatty tissues of living organisms. In the environment, concentrations of these substances can increase by factors of many thousands or millions as they move up the food chain
The Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Project
The Persistent Organic Pollutants project for the Cook Islands has been created in an attempt to address a key environmental challenge in the Cook Islands. The project will examine pollution prevention and adoption of best practices and appropriate technology to improve the environment to meet community needs. The project will also endeavour to fulfil the Government’s international obligation under the Stockholm Convention a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from POP’s.
The Cook Islands will address chemical management through the National Action Plan proposed under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Frameworks that will influence the use of persistent organic pollutants and Chemicals are the National Environment Strategic Action Framework 2005-2009, the National Sustainable Development Plan, the National Millennium Goals and at the community level, the Takitumu Lagoon Management Plan.
The Persistent Organic Pollutants project aims to strengthen the existing national framework for managing chemicals and pesticides in the Cook Islands. Its rationale identifies the need to institutionalise effective mechanisms and policies to address the control of chemicals, illegal importation, the investigation and possible remediation of contaminated sites, the proper storage and disposal of existing stockpiles, reduction of unintentional releases (dioxins and furans), monitoring of contaminated sites, education and public awareness, and the building of local capacity to effectively implement actions in these key areas.
Consistency with National Priorities
The Cook Islands has been actively involved in the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Barbados Plan of Action and the Millennium Development Goals processes. At a national level, these processes have played an important role in identifying key environmental issues and challenges for the Cook Islands. The result has been The National Environment Strategic Action Framework (NESAF) which attempts to provide a sector wide approach to addressing environmental challenges in the Cook Islands. The Persistent Organic Pollutants project is in line with the vision for the NESAF 2005-2009. Its focus is Goal 3.2 on “Waste Management and Pollution Protection”.
The Persistent Organic Pollutants project will endeavour to fulfil the government’s international obligations under the Stockholm Convention as well as provide funds to assist with the preparation of the National Implementation Plan. At a local level, the Persistent Organic Pollutants project will ensure that environmental and health effects of Persistent Organic Pollutants will be communicated to all levels of the community.
The National Implementation Plan will introduce key strategic actions to strengthen the gaps within our own national chemical management framework, including the review of present legislation including the Environment Act 2003, Public Health Act 2004 and the Pesticides Act. It will also complement other similar work that has been mandated under various international Conventions including the Stockholm Convention, Basel Convention, Rotterdam Convention, Waigani Convention, Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol.
The Pesticides Act 1987 is the only legislation in place which controls the importation and usage of chemicals in the Cook Islands. Anyone who wishes to import pesticide into the Cook Islands must apply to the Pesticides Board for registration of the pesticide and some instruction as to its use. The Environment Act 2003 and the Public Health Act 2004 deals with the safe handling and disposal of chemicals from both the environment and human safety perspectives. Customs legislation covers the import of chemicals into the Cook Islands.
The beneficiaries of the Persistent Organic Pollutants project will be in both the public and private sectors. At a local level, the environmental and health effects of persistent organic pollutants will be well communicated and understood at all levels of the community through the POPs project. This will include policies for monitoring, handling, storage and repatriation of industrial hazardous and dangerous goods including persistent organic pollutants, ozone depletion substances and radioactive wastes, will be targeted for formulation and adoption.
The project contains a gender implementation statement that will look at the effects of persistent organic pollutants on men and women. Consideration will be given to ensuring that both women and men’s perspectives, needs, experiences, views, and as a user of chemicals are incorporated into the projects processes.
Education and Awareness
Enhanced knowledge and a more responsible attitude towards the environmental and health effects of persistent organic pollutants and other hazardous chemicals will develop through workshops, advertisements and general media publicity. Press releases will be provided regularly by the Project Coordinator in consultation with the NPSC.