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Home >> Issues >> Pesticides, Health & Environment >> Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and Indigenous People of the Arctic

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Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and Indigenous People of the Arctic

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Persistent organic pollutants, or POPs for short, are highly toxic chemicals that travel long distances through air, water, and migratory animals; accumulate in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems; and move up the food chain into the bodies of animals and people. They belong to a class of chemicals known as organochlorines (OCs), which are resistant to biodegradation and accumulate in the environment over long periods of time. They are known to cause endocrine, reproductive, and immune system disruption, neurobehavioral disorders, and cancers, including breast cancer.

These chemicals tend to volatilize in hot regions and condense in cold regions where they stay and accumulate. They are found all over the world, including areas where they have never been used and in remote regions such as the middle of oceans and the Arctic and the Antarctic.  For instance, DDT has been banned for agricultural use in most parts of the world, however, it is still accumulating in birds, animals, and human beings

POPs pesticides, such as DDT, lindane, endosulfan, toxaphene, chlordane and other POPs such as PCBs have been found in human and animal tissue in the Arctic at levels several times higher than in the rest of the world and the levels keep rising

The Arctic is home to approximately half a million of indigenous people, who are reliant on a traditional diet of foods from the land and ocean for their physical, cultural, spiritual sustenance. Therefore, POPs present a significant hazard to the health and cultures of the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic. They should not be forced to choose between maintaining their traditional diet and protecting themselves from the harmful effects of POPs in their food.

The Stockholm Convention, a global environmental treaty, came into force in 2004. The Convention, also known as POPs Convention, was created to protect human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants. The convention began with 12 chemicals identified as POPs and a mechanism is in place for adding new chemicals. 

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