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UNEP study reveals harmful chemical pervades global environment

By Faridat Salifu

Despite global efforts to reduce persistent organic pollutants (POPs), a comprehensive study conducted by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), revealed that harmful chemicals continue to pervade our environment.

The study funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), highlights the need for ongoing vigilance and regulation to address both legacy pollutants and emerging threats.

Report had it that the stud was carried out in 42 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands.

It monitored 30 POPs listed under the Stockholm Convention. Samples collected between 2016 and 2019 were analysed, revealing the widespread presence of these pollutants in human milk, air, water, soil, and various food sources.

As governments convene in Geneva to discuss the establishment of a science-policy panel on chemicals, waste, and pollution prevention, the findings underscore the persistence of POPs despite regulatory measures.

Andrea Hinwood, UNEP’s Chief Scientist, emphasized the importance of monitoring POPs, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, to support informed decision-making regarding contamination and exposure.

The study found that regulatory actions have led to a global decline in the levels of 12 POPs initially listed in the 2004 Stockholm Convention.

Notably, the use of DDT in agriculture has decreased, with a 70 percent reduction in human milk samples since 2004.

However, DDT remains the most prevalent POP in human milk, especially in regions with historical intensive use.

Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions, highlighted the significance of POPs monitoring in evaluating the impact of global actions.

The study’s data illustrate both the progress made and the ongoing need for intensified efforts to protect human health and the environment.

Anil Sookdeo, GEF’s Coordinator for Chemicals and Waste, affirmed the GEF’s commitment to supporting and enhancing POPs monitoring globally.

A new program is being developed to include newly listed POPs and mercury, building on the experience gained from this study.

Despite progress, the study detected elevated levels of long-regulated chemicals like dieldrin and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the air across Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America.

Additionally, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), replacements for some banned chemicals, were found to have similar POPs properties.

These substances, including PFOS, PFOA, and PFHxS, were detected in human milk and drinking water, sometimes at levels exceeding European and US standards.

UNEP’s Chief of the Chemicals and Health Branch, Jacqueline Alvarez, warned against the pattern of replacing one regulated POP with another harmful substance.

She stressed the need for sustainable industrial product design and consumer behavior to prevent regrettable substitutions.

UNEP remains committed to supporting governments and working with industries to address POPs, identify critical areas, track pollution reduction progress, and prevent further contamination.

The study calls for continued improvements in POPs analysis and greater participation from laboratories in low-income countries to ensure comprehensive monitoring and effective regulatory responses.


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