Persistent Organic Pollutants

Last edited 7 November 2001 at 9:00am
Dioxin waste

Dioxin waste

POPs The worst toxics in our environment today are known as POPs, or persistent organic pollutants. These substances are generally extremely toxic in small amounts, and because they travel long distances via air currents, they endanger people and wildlife all over the world. We now also know that POPs are carried by the atmosphere towards polar environments where, in the cold conditions, they condense and are deposited. This mechanism is now believed to account for the surprisingly high concentrations of POPs present in arctic environments, and in the indigenous peoples that live there.

The other defining, and extremely worrying, characteristic of POPs is that they cannot easily be broken down by natural processes - in other words they are persistent. In some cases, when breakdown does occur, it creates chemicals that are even more hazardous than the original substances. Dioxin, a by-product from combustion processes involving chlorine, is one of the most poisonous POPs known to science.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has recently adopted a worldwide legally binding treaty to eliminate POPs - twelve organochlorine POPs, including dioxins have been prioritised. Citizens must push governments and industry to make this a success and begin the new millennium with a global effort towards Clean Production.

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