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Climate change and POPs focus of new international study

Parma (Italy), 12 March 2010 – The UNEP Stockholm Convention Secretariat has announced a major international study into the influence of climate change and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) on human health and the environment.

POPs are substances that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic and can affect generations of humans. 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. POPs can also have developmental and carcinogenic effects.

Among sensitive populations, children, the elderly, and people whose immune systems are suppressed are typically more susceptible to many kinds of pollutants, including POPs.

Announced to coincide with the 5th Environment and Health Ministerial Conference in Parma, Italy (10-12 March 2010), the study will involve more than 10 organizations in five countries reviewing the latest science to inform the assessment of current and new POPs.

Some data suggest that higher temperatures can make wildlife more sensitive to exposure to certain pollutants, Dr. Fatoumata Keita-Ouane, the UNEP scientist leading the study of POPs and Climate Change, said. In the Arctic region, climate change can be expected to alter the exposure levels of marine mammals such as seals or the polar bear through a variety of means including changes in long-range atmospheric and oceanographic transport along with biotransport and the melting of the ice caps.

“Exposures to POPs in combination with other factors, such as the expanding range of disease vectors and immune suppression, could also have a detrimental effect on certain organisms, the food web and biodiversity,” Dr. Keita-Ouane said.

Increase in the levels of POPs found in air and water due to releases from melting ice and snow, combined with possibly higher emissions induced by climate change would augment the vulnerability of exposed organisms including humans, either directly or through the food chain, resulting in greater adverse impacts on human health and the environment.

The study will provide an overview to give the scientific community and policy makers a better understanding of the effects of climate change on emissions, environmental distribution, toxicity and exposure to POPs.

The outcomes of the 12-month study are expected to result in policy recommendations on how to mitigate the impacts of POPs under Europe’s -- and the globe’s -- changing climate.

The study will be conducted with partners from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, University of Bern, the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP), University of Texas, Laval University (Canada), University of Concepción (Chile), International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), and other institutions.

The objective of the Stockholm Convention is to protect human health and the environment from POPs.

For more information:

Please see the Stockholm Convention secretariat’s newly released brochure, Climate Change and POPs, at www.pops.int.

Contact:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, ,+41 795 965 737 or +254 733 632 755, email: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Michael Stanley-Jones, Press Focal Point/Public Information Officer, Joint  Services of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, + 41-22-917-8668; (m) + 41-79-730-4495, e-mail: msjones@pops.int

Fatoumata Keita-Ouane, Head, Scientific and technical section, Secretariat of the Stockholm Convention, International Environment House, 11-13, chemin des Anémones, CH-1219, Châtelaine, Geneva, Switzerland,  +41 22 917 8161,
e-mail: fouane@pops.int

Friday 12 Mar 2010
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