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Pringle lecture (Ecl 6080): 26 October 2009. Understanding and Controlling Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs): An important, yet neglected, dimension of Conservation Biology?. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) A. Historical perspective on synthetic chemicals

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pringle lecture ecl 6080 26 october 2009

Pringle lecture (Ecl 6080): 26 October 2009

Understanding and Controlling Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs):

An important, yet neglected, dimension of Conservation Biology?


Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)

A. Historical perspective on synthetic chemicals

B. Effects in wildlife (2002 Global Assessment EDCs)

C. Effects on humans

-body burdens in newborns (EWG 2005 report)

II. Measuring toxicity

A. acute versus chronic

B. lethal vs sublethal

-sublethal (reproductive, development

and growth, behavior, immune system

III. Policy

A.How can we regulate POPs?

-reforming federal law

-Stockholm Convention

B. How can we stop the international trade

in hazardous/toxic wastes?

-Basel Convention


Historical perspective:

There are over 100,000 synthetic chemicals on the market - most largely produced since World War II.

Federal regulation of production of these chemicals very


By the early 1970s - warning signs of environmental problems

-DDT - bird and bald eagle deaths

(Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring)

-DES - widely used drug which caused cancer

-PCBs - killing birds and fish

Unfortunately the above problems were viewed more

as isolated cases:

a few rogue chemicals had wrecked havoc…so

ban DDT, ban DES, ban PCBs


By introducing so many substances that did not evolve with living organisms over hundreds of millions of years, …have we unwittingly initiated changes in our biology that may be damaging it profoundly?


POPs TIMELINE (1870-2001)


1874 DDT first synthesized

PCBs synthesized

1889 First reports of skin disease linked to POPs

1900 ---------------------------------------------

Industrial scale production of PCBs

1948 Paul Muller receives Nobel Prize


1959 Peak of DDT use in the US

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is published

Wildlife damage reported

US bans DDT

US bans manufacture of PCBs

Theo Colburn’s Our Stolen Future is published

1998 Convention on POPs


2001 Stockholm Convention on POPs

what are persistent organic pollutants pops
What are Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)?
  • Chemicals that resist biodegradation, with a tendency to acculate
  • in the food chain, and which are very mobile - moving around
  • the globe in a grasshopper effect - via repeated cycles of
  • evaporation, wind and deposition
  • aldrin
  • chlordane
  • DDT
  • dieldrin
  • endrin
  • heptachlor

The Dirty Dozen:

7. mirex

8. toxaphene

9. PCBs

10. hexachlorobenzen

11. dioxins

12. furins


Sixteen top predators in the Laurentian Great Lakes

have reproductive problems


1. Bald eagle 1. Lake trout

2. Black crowned night heron 2. Sauger

3. Caspian tern

4. Common tern Reptiles:

5. Double crested cormorant 1. Snapping turtle

6. Forster’s tern

7. Herring gull Mammals:

8. Osprey 1. Beluga whale

9. Ring-billed gull 2. Mink

3. Otter


Lake trout declines

attributed to predation

by introduced

sea lamprey.

………What is the

role of POPs ?


Chinook salmon

deaths linked to bacterial

kidney disease

Male Kestrels dosed with pesticides are

smaller and less dominant than un-dosed


Deformities in Double-

Crested Cormorant

in Great Lakes


Shell thinning of

cormorant eggs resulting

from exposure to DDT


Subtle effects of toxic poisoning result in large

populations of relatively resistant species like gulls


Heavily contaminated with mercury, lead, DDT, PCBs, Mirex,

  • and many other pesticides;
  • >50 ppm PCBs = toxic waste
  • St. Lawrence Beluga’s - the living dead?

Dicofal spill into stream draining

into Lake Apopka, FL, results

in reproductive abnormalities

in alligators and population

decline of 90%


Polar Bears

-reproductive problems

-altered levels of



vitamin A, and

thyroid hormones

-suppression of immune


-only Pacific Northwest

orcas, Baltic Sea seals

and St. Lawrence

River belugas have

been found with higher

doses of PCBs than

polar bears in

Svalbard, Norway



In a study spearheaded by the EWG, researchers at two major lab-

oratories found an average of 200 industrial compounds, pollutants,

and other chemicals in 10 newborn babies, with a total of 287

chemicals found in the group.


The chemicals found in newborns include: organochlorine pesticides (DDT and dieldrin) chemicals currently or formerly used in a wide range of consumer products (perfluoro- chemicals, brominated fire retardants, PCBs) chemical pollutants from waste incineration and fossil fuel combustion (polyaromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated and polybrominated dioxins and furans, polychlorinated naphthalenes, mercury).


EPA's policies on toxic chemicals largely target cancer. EPA with no formal policy regarding childrens' vulnerability to chemicals that damage the immune system, the brain, or the hormone system, kidney, liver, lungs, thyroid or a host of other potential targets, even though plenty of evidence says that children face higher risks for harm.


From a regulatory perspective, fetal exposure to

industrial chemicals is quite literally out of control.

  • U.S. industries manufacture and import
  • approximately 75,000 chemicals, 3,000
  • of them at over a million pounds per year.
  • Studies show that hundreds of industrial
  • chemicals circulate in the blood of a baby
  • in the womb, interacting in ways that are
  • not fully understood.
  • Many more pollutants are likely present in the
  • womb, but test methods have yet to be
  • developed that would allow health officials to
  • comprehensively assess prenatal exposure to
  • chemicals, or to ensure that these exposures
  • are safe.
the reason
The Reason:
  • The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is our
  • nation's notoriously weak chemical safety law.
  • TSCA deprives the EPA of the most basic regulatory tools.
  • The vast majority of chemicals in use today do not have
  • anywhere near sufficient data needed to assess their
  • safety, particularly their safety for the unborn baby or
  • young child.
  • Under TSCA, the EPA cannot require this data as a
  • condition of continued chemical use. Instead, the EPA
  • must negotiate with industry or complete a formal "test
  • rule" for every study that it needs, for every chemical on
  • the market. Consequently, very few high quality toxicity
  • tests are conducted.

The EWG study and a strong body of supporting science suggest that fetal exposure to industrial chemicals is contributing to adverse health effects in the human population. Experience indicates that it is never too late to take action. Blood levels of PCBs and pesticides like DDT are lower today than 30 years ago when they were banned. Since these watershed actions in the 1970s, however, few industrial chemicals have been regulated to any significant degree.


Recommendations of EWG Report

The various reasons for this stagnation — the need for data on chemical toxicity and exposure, lack of ambition at the EPA, and chemical industry intransigence — all come back to one central cause: the absence of a strong federal chemical safety law that provides the EPA with unambiguous statutory authority to take the actions needed to ensure that chemicals are safe.


How can we regulate POPs on a

national level?


Federal law must be reformed to ensure that children

  • are protected from chemical exposures, and that to the
  • maximum extent possible exposure to industrial
  • chemicals before birth be eliminated entirely.
  • The nation's pesticide law was amended nearly a decade
  • ago to require explicit protection of infants and children
  • from pesticides.
  • Actions taken under the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act
  • (FQPA) have reduced or eliminated children's exposures
  • to a number of highly hazardous pesticides, with no
  • discernable adverse impact on the availability or price of
  • a wholesome food supply, and without adverse impact
  • on the agricultural or pesticide industry.
  • We recommend a similar standard be applied to
  • commercial chemicals.

This would mean transforming TSCA into a true public

health and environmental law, with the following core

provisions. A new TSCA would:

• Require chemical manufacturers to demonstrate

affirmatively that the chemicals they sell are safe for

the entire population exposed, including children in

the womb. In the absence of information on the risks

of pre-natal exposure, chemicals must be assumed

to present greater risk to the developing baby in utero,

and extra protections must be required at least as

strict as the 10 fold children's safety factor in FQPA


• Require that the safety of closely related chemicals, such as the perfluorochemicals used to make Teflon and other stain-resistant and water repellant products, be assessed as a group. The presumption would be that these chemicals have additive toxicity unless manufacturers clearly prove otherwise.• Grant the EPA clear and unencumbered authority to demand all studies needed to make a finding of safety and to enforce clear deadlines for study completion.


• Remove from the market chemicals for which tests demonstrating safety are not conducted.• Eliminate confidential business protection for all health, safety, and environmental information.• Require that material safety data sheets provided to workers contain the results of studies conducted under these provisions.• Provide strong incentives for green, safer chemicals in consumer products and industrial processes.


Results of this EWP

Investigation raise

questions with respect

to the role of exposures

in utero both in a range

of children's health

problems and in diseases

developed in adulthood

that may have their

origins in early life


international regulation objectives of the stockholm convention
International regulation: Objectives of the Stockholm Convention
  • Elimination of intentionally produced POPs
  • -DDT
  • Elimination and reduction of unintentionally produced POPs
  • -dioxins
  • Disposal of POP wastes
  • Identification and regulation of new POPs
  • - penta BDE
  • - lindane
  • -others (difocal, endosulfan and perfluorinated chemicals)
stockholm convention on pops cont
Stockholm Convention on POPs (cont):
  • First global legally binding instrument whose aim is to protect
  • Human health and environment by controlling production, use
  • and disposal of toxic chemicals
  • Has helped classify chemicals that are especially toxic
  • (established the dirty dozen
  • Signed by 151 countries; ratified by 119 countries
  • US has signed but the current administration is stalling
  • on ratification

How can we curb the international

trade in toxic and hazardous wastes?


Objectives of the Basel Convention on

Control of Transboundary Movements of

Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal:

  • International treaty designed to reduce the movements
  • of hazardous waste between nations, and specifically to
  • prevent transfer of hazardous waste developed to less
  • developed countries (LDCs).
  • Basel Ban Amendment prohibits the export of hazardous
  • waste from a list of developed countries to developing
  • countries. The Basel Ban applies to export for any reason,
  • including recycling; not yet in force but considered
  • morally binding by signatories

The Basel Convention (cont):

  • 166 countries have signed the convention which was entered
  • into force in 1992
  • US has not ratified convention (neither has Haiti, Afghanistan)
  • US is strongly opposed to Basel Ban, as is Canada and
  • many industry groups
  • 61 nations have ratified the Basel Ban; 62 nations needed for
  • it togo into effect

Current issues in the international

movement of hazardous wastes

  • E-waste
  • Ship-breaking

Exercise your purchasing power

and make informed choices:

-baby products (Tiny Footprints website)

-Environmental Working Group’s website

-email for full list of web sites