Greenpeace urges tougher approach on POPs

Report documents effects on wildlife in northern Europe, Arctic, calls for new risk assessment paradigm

Risk assessment of chemicals in Europe is a "complete failure in terms of controlling [their] effects on the environment," Greenpeace International said today.

Presenting a report on the presence of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in Europe and the Arctic, researcher Paul Johnston concluded that "The EU risk assessment paradigm has shown itself unworkable. We need to find a whole new approach and one which includes a much more precautionary approach."

The report, entitled Tip of the Iceberg, describes how the Arctic region functions as a "sink" for many POPs which can be transported for thousands of miles by water or air before condensing in the colder temperatures. Some of the chemicals are present at similar levels to those in industrial countries, the report adds, and their much slower degradation rate means they are likely to persist for longer and become incorporated into the food chain.

Special emphasis is placed on marine mammals, which carry high levels in their tissues and are particularly susceptible to toxicity from them. In the northeast Atlantic, organochlorines such as DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were detected in all species tested. The chemicals of greatest concern include brominated flame retardants, which have been turning up in sperm whales; PCBs, which are particularly high in polar bears; tributyltin (TBT) anti-fouling compounds, and synthetic fragrances such as muskxylene. Health concerns were also raised about human communities consuming large amounts of fish or sea mammals.

The Greenpeace report is an attempt to influence policy makers including those at the European Commission, which is drawing up a consultation document on future chemicals policy for publication next year. At their last meeting in June, member states' environment ministers called for deadlines to be set on obtaining risk assessment data on high priority and made a number of references to the precautionary principle ({ENDS Daily 25 June}).

Greenpeace added that it was "extremely disappointed" by progress to date in implementing the Ospar agreement to cease discharges of hazardous and radioactive substances to the sea and to achieve close to zero concentrations in the marine environment. "Only Sweden is taking active measures to date," Mr Johnston said. "Other countries must follow suit and make a concrete commitment to the generational goal" of phasing out such substances by 2020 ({ENDS Daily 28 June}).

Follow Up:
Greenpeace International, tel: +31 20 5249 548. References: "The tip of the iceberg: state of knowledge on persistent organic pollutants in Europe and the Arctic."

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