Efforts on to protect human health, environment from POPs

STAFF REPORT ISB: Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) accumulate in the fatty tissues of living organisms including humans, and are found at higher concentration in the food chain and are toxic to both humans and wildlife.

As a result of releases to the environment over the past several decades, these POPs are now widely distributed over large regions and in some cases are found around the globe.

This was highlighted at a two-day “National Inception and Training Workshop for Updating Inventory of Initial and New POPs” recently organised by the Ministry of Climate Change in Islamabad.

The objectives of this workshop was to recommend the terms of reference for the initial assessment of new POPs in Pakistan, and to assign responsibilities, and raise awareness on the new POPs.

The workshop was attended, amongst others, by representatives of UNDP, GEF, National Food Security and Research Ministry, National and Provincial Environmental Protection Agencies, NGOs, academia and private sector, who also proposed various actions for eliminating POPs relevant to their areas.

The speakers at the workshop highlighted that Pakistan is a party to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and the ministry of climate change is implementing the project “Review and Update of National Implementation Plan of Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in Pakistan” as it is need of the hour to review, assess, and update the National Implementation Plan (NIP) and Action Plan.

In his remarks, Joint Secretary International Cooperation, of the ministry, Iftikhar-ur-Hassan Shah Gilani, said on the occasion that his ministry is working hard to protect human health and to prevent the environmental risks of POPs by enhancing and managing policies and capacities in Pakistan.

“POPs act as cocktail, they multiply the harmful effects of chemicals, we want to develop comprehensive national action plan to control the initial and news POPs to eliminate them from our environment,” he said.

Dr Zaigham Abbas, Deputy Director Chemicals, ministry of climate change, told the audience that the government is keen to update the new POPs in the national implementation plan and for assessment of national implications of new POPs.

Dr. Roland Erich Weber, a POPs expert of UN Environment Programme, said that persistent organic pollutants are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological, and photolytic processes. This extensive contamination of environmental media and living organisms includes many foodstuffs and has resulted in the sustained exposure of many species, including humans, for periods of time that span generations, resulting in both acute and chronic toxic effects.

He said that the POPs concentrate in living organisms through bioaccumulation. Though not soluble in water, POPs are readily absorbed in fatty tissue, where concentrations can become magnified by up to 70,000 times the background levels. Fish, predatory birds, mammals, and humans are high up the food chain and so absorb the greatest concentrations.

Dr. Weber also highlighted the large challenges and cost industrial countries face with contaminated sites.

Specific effects of POPs can include cancer, allergies and hypersensitivity, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, reproductive disorders, and disruption of the immune system. Some POPs are also considered to be endocrine disrupters, which, by altering the hormonal system, can damage the reproductive and immune systems of exposed individuals as well as their offspring; they can also have developmental and carcinogenic effects.

In the workshop it was emphasized that Pakistan could learn from the mistakes and lessons learned in industrial countries.

Another threat but also business opportunity is the recycling of electronic waste or end-of-life vehicles which are also containing brominated POPs chemicals. The workshop showed how China did overcome their challenges on electronic waste recycling and associated pollution and what regulations have been developed in China.

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