Because of their high toxicity, ability to be transported long distances, and persistence in the environment, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have engendered considerable alarm. At the international level, The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has identified POPs as prime candidates for international phaseout. Many of these chemicals are pesticides, described earlier in this chapter. A few are industrial pollutants or byproducts, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxin and furans.
In 1997, the governing council of UNEP concluded that international action, including a global legally binding instrument (e.g., treaty or convention), was needed in order to reduce the risks of POPs to human health and the environment. An intergovernmental negotiating committee (INC) was estabished with a mandate to prepare this international legally binding instrument for implementing international action. The first meeting of the INC is scheduled for early 1998. The INC will also establish an expert group that will help develop science-based criteria and a procedure for identifying additional POPs as candidates for future international action. In the short term, UNEP has initiated a number of immediate actions involving development and sharing of information about the hazards of POPs (1).
At the national level, policies regarding disposal and cleanup will vary greatly depending on the types of POPs in use or storage. Policies will also be shaped with consideration of whether or not the existing waste treatment and disposal infrastructure can be used or easily modified for POPs management, and the relative cost of various management options (2). A key priority for all countries is to identify those areas where POPs contamination is a concern. Because the majority of human exposures to POPs arise through the food chain, warning the public of possible contamination of fish or other wildlife can also help minimize health risks (3).
References and notes
1. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UNEP Chemicals Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 2 (UNEP, Nairobi, 1997). Available online at: http://irptc.unep.ch/irptc/docs/newslt12.html (January 21, 1998).
2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Prevention , Pesticides and Toxic Substances, “Management of Polychlorinated Biphenyls in the United States,” January 30, 1997 paper.
3. The Council on Environmental Quality, Environmental Quality: 25th Anniversary Report (U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1997), p. 118.