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close this bookWIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 10, No. 4 - Critical Issues in Health and the Environment (WIT, 1998, 16 p.)
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Health and Environment

Persistent Organic Pollutants

WIT recognizes the global health hazard caused by presence of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the environment. The Pall World Ecology Report presented a background article on POPs. Here we reprint the NGO proposal to eliminate POPs developed by the NGO network known as IPEN (International POPs Elimination Network). WIT is a member of the IPEN Steering Committee and endorses the POPs Elimination Platform.


The undersigned organizations are in agreement that:

15. The appropriate goal for a POPs convention is the establishment of a systematic and sustained Programme of Action in which all countries participate to eliminate POPs and their significant sources. This is the only course of action that can, over time, eliminate the injury that POPs cause.

16. The goal of a global POPs convention must not be defined as the "better management of risks associated with POPs." POPs do not only represent a "risk," but also a current source of significant injury to the biosphere -to humans, to wildlife and to entire ecosystems around the world. Nor is the better management of POPs and POPs releases an appropriate goal for a global POPs convention, as POPs by their very nature are unmanageable substances. We recognize, however, that the elimination of all significant POPs sources, and the remediation of POPs environmental reservoirs will, in many cases, be difficult and take time. We also recognize that POPs will remain in the environment and in the food chain for an extended period, even after global POPs elimination measures have been effectively implemented. For this reason, POPs management regimes will often be required as the longer term phase-out regimes are put in place and take effect. POPs management, however, should be viewed as a supplement to POPs elimination and not as an alternative.

17. The world's governments, through the UNEP-authorized Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), must establish a legally binding global Programme of Action designed to eliminate POPs and their anthropogenic (of human origin) sources based on the following principles:

a) The POPs Programme of Action must entail a problem solving, solutions-oriented regime, which recognizes that many countries lack the capacity to eliminate POPs and their anthropogenic source without significant external assistance. Assistance will often be required to help countries identify and make available cost-effective alternatives to POPs and their sources, emphasizing non-toxic and non-chemical alternatives wherever possible. A meaningful POPs elimination agreement must include significant commitments for shared responsibility including external assistance as well as technical and other aid in capacity enhancement. This regime should include mobilization of funds and expertise from relevant United Nations and other public agencies and multi-agency initiatives, the private sector, NGOs, and civil society groups to actively encourage the establishment of safe, environmentally sustainable, cost-effective and efficient means to achieve desired outcomes;

b) No country or region must be asked or required to take action under a POPs agreement that is substantively harmful to the health or to the well-being of its people or environment. Special efforts must be made to ensure that health and safety are not compromised while a POP is being phased out and eliminated (particularly in the area of infectious disease control, necessary food production and other significant social or health-related matters). These should include the transfer of scientific, technological, and financial resources to help ensure a safe transition away from POPs. Moreover, a proposed alternative to a POP - even if that alternative is not a POP - should not be considered appropriate if it poses an unacceptable local or regional health or environmental threat because of toxicity or other properties;

c) Once a substance is listed as a POP, it is inappropriate to accept its continued generation and release into the environment. We reject the claim that emissions and releases of POPs can be effectively managed and controlled. When a substance is listed as a POP, the plan of action set out by the agreement should set out a time-table to stop all its uses and all its emissions. The elimination of a POP should not be gauged by its measured presence in the environment. A POP has no acceptable emission limit, no acceptable daily intake, and no acceptable level in the environment;

d) For POPs identified as UNEP action targets - the twelve already identified as well as others that may be added at a later date -the legally binding instrument should mandate a rapid, but orderly and responsible global Programme of Action that will: (i) for those POPs intentionally produced, phase out and then ban all intentional production and intentional use and also end all import, export, transfer and sales; (ii) for those POPs that are generated as unwanted contaminants, byproducts and combustion products, identify and phase-out significant anthropogenic sources. In identifying sources, consideration should be given to industrial processes, waste disposal technologies, and anthropogenic products and materials routinely associated with the generation of POPs during their ordinary life-cycle; and (iii) for obsolete POPs stocks and environmental POPs reservoirs, identify, collect and destroy the POPs by means that do not, themselves, cause hazards, generate POPs or otherwise threaten or injure health and/or the environment;

e) A workable and transparent procedure should be established for identifying new POPs beyond the original twelve as elimination targets under the global Programme of Action; criteria for identifying additional POPs should be based on environmental and health protection considerations only;

f) POPs elimination should proceed through a transition regime that is rapid, orderly and just. Unnecessary delay should not be tolerated. Phase-out transitions should proceed through a planned and orderly regime that is designed to keep economic and social costs to a minimum and to avoid disruptions and dislocations. In some cases, there will be need for transition assistance and/or other aid to specific groups of workers or communities who currently depend for their livelihood on production or use of POPs, on technologies that generate POPs or on materials that routinely generate POPs during their ordinary life cycle. When there are economic benefits as well as economic costs associated with a POPs phase-out regime, these should be equitably distributed among affected groups. In particular, the costs of clean-up and phase-out of POPs should be shared by groups responsible for their production with special attention to the private sector. Monitoring and oversight of elimination activities and financing should be conducted by independent bodies accountable to the public;

g) In addressing the special considerations addressed in points a) and b), above, and in order to assist governments, the=20private sector, NGOs, scientists and other interested parties in all countries in expediting effective POPs-related action, it is essential that a special "clearing-house" mechanism focused on POPs be established in tandem with the global, legally binding instrument, providing interested parties with direct access to relevant sources of information, practical experience and scientific and technical expertise and to facilitate effective scientific, technical and financial cooperation as well as capacity-building;

h) As part of the global effort to identify and eliminate POPs, aggressive programs of toxicity testing should be undertaken directed to the many chemicals whose toxic effects remain unknown, evaluating these chemicals both individually and in combination, and addressing the broad range of relevant health outcomes, including carcinogenicity and mutagenicity, endocrine activity, and developmental, immune, neurological, and reproductive toxicity. Where there remains uncertainty about the effects of a POP, action should be taken consistent with the precautionary principle, which relies on the weight of evidence approach, with special consideration given to the risks to fetuses, children, and other vulnerable populations; and

i) Complementing the need for transparent processes, including meaningful public participation, throughout the negotiation of a global, legally binding POPs instrument, the resulting regime (as well as related national, international and private sector activities) must likewise be as transparent as possible, including measures to ensure effective public/NGO participation in decision-making and the identification and development of safe and sustainable alternatives, and timely access to relevant governmental and private sector data on sources, levels, uses and whereabouts of POPs, as well as data held by those sectors regarding hazards and alternatives.

For more information about IPEN or to endorse the platform, contact Karen Perry, Physicians for Social Responsibility, at or at (202) 898-0150 x249

Everyday 214,000 acres of rainforest - an area larger than New York City-- are destroyed. Rainforest plants have provided drugs for treating diseases such as cancer, Hodgkin disease, hypertension, arthritis and childhood leukemia. Only 1% of the rainforest species have been studied and countless cures for the other ailments await discovery. But dozens are driven into extinction everyday by human development and at the present rate of deforestation, nearly all tropical rain forest systems will be distroyed by the year 2030.

SOURCE: Rainforest Action Network

Toxic Effects of Indoor Molds

Abstract: This statement describes molds, their toxic properties, and their potential for causing toxic respiratory problems in infants. Presented at WIT's 7th International Conference on Health and Environment held at the U.N.

The growth of molds is pervasive throughout the outdoor environment. Given the proper conditions, molds many also proliferate in the indoor setting. Because Americans spend 75% to 90% of their time indoors', they are exposed to molds that are growing indoors.

Molds readily enter indoor environments by circulating through doorways, windows, heating, ventilation systems, an air conditioning systems. Spores in the air also deposit on people and animals, making clothing, shoes, bags, and pets common carriers of mold into indoor environments. The most common indoor molds are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Alternaria.

Molds proliferate in environments that contain excessive moisture, such s from leaks in roofs, walls, plant pots, or pet urine. Many building materials are suitable nutrient sources for fungal growth. Cellulose substrates, including paper and paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood, and wood products, are particularly favorable for the growth of some molds. Other substrates such as dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation materials, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery commonly support mold growth. Molds also may colonize near standing water.

Some indoor molds have the potential to produce extremely potent toxins called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are lipid-soluble and are readily absorbed by the intestinal lining, airways, and skin.


The toxic effects from mold exposure are thought to be associated with exposure to toxins on the surface of the mold spores, not with the growth of the mold in the body. Until recently, there was only one published report in the United States linking air-borne exposure to mycotoxins with health problems in humans. The investigators documented that this mold was producing trichothescne mycotoxins.

The quantity of molds, including the toxigenic fungus Stachybotrysatra, was higher in the homes of infants with pulmonary hemorrhage. Simultaneous exposure to environmental tobacco smoke appeared to increase the risk of acute pulmonary hemorrhage among infants.

Stachybotrysatra requires water-saturated cellulose-based materials for growth in buildings. In studies conducted in North America, it has been found in 2% to 3% of home environments sampled. Infants may be particularly susceptible to the effects of these inhaled mycotoxins because their lungs are growing very rapidly.


Very little is currently known about acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage among infants. This is a newly recognized problem and knowledge is expected to be evolving rapidly. In view of the severity of the problem, environmental controls to eliminate water problems and to reduce the growth of indoor molds are wise. Until more is known about the etiology of idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage, prudence dictates that pediatricians try to ensure that infants under 1 year of age are not exposed to chronically moldy, water-damages environments.

Coroners and medical examiners should consider using the recent published Guidelines for Death Scene Investigation of Sudden, Unexplained Infant Deaths, which includes a question about dampness, visible standing water, or mold growth.


1. In areas where flooding has occurred, prompt cleaning of walls and other flood-damaged items with water mixed with chlorine bleach, diluted four parts water to one part bleach, is necessary to prevent mold growth. Never mix bleach with ammonia. Moldy items should be discarded.

2. Pediatricians should ask about mold and water damage in the home when they treat infants with idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage. If mold is in the home, pediatricians should encourage parents to try to find and eliminate sources of moisture. Testing the environment for specific molds is usually not necessary. It appears to be important to clean up moldy conditions before the infant is discharged form the hospital to prevent recurrent pulmonary hemorrhage.

3. Infants with idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage must not be exposed to environments in which smoking occurs.

4. Infants who die suddenly without known cause should have an autopsy done including a Prussian blue stain of lung tissue to look for the presence of hemosiderin.

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health 1997-1998, Ruth A. Etzel, MD, PhD, Chairperson