Welcome back, ecoSPEARS readers! This week we’re looking at three news articles you likely didn’t see on mainstream media. Today’s articles are full of more pleasant news (thankfully) than you’ve likely seen in recent weeks regarding the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) affecting the health of our global environment. Let’s dive into the news!
Our first article today comes from Science Daily, where last week the findings of a study conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) were published. The study found that certain POPs found contaminating various Arctic regions, specifically DDT and PCBs, have begun to show decreases in their concentration levels since the signing and implementation of regulations cited in the Stockholm Convention: a European-based international partnership of countries, agencies, and organizations dedicated to ridding the world of its most persistent and harmful contaminants before the mid-21st-century in an effort to prevent further environmental pollution, contamination, as well as to help combat the effects of climate change.
Polar Bears are among the Arctic species most hurt by man-made environmental contamination.
Since being signed in 2001 and pushed to regulation in 2004, the Stockholm Convention (which consists of 152 countries and is recognized by 182 countries) has listed some 33 man-made pollutants in its list of POPs to monitor and, eventually, remove from the environment. Studies on POPs such as DDT and PCBs have been conducted on the native animal species and peopls of the Arctic since the 1980s, but this is the first internationally-conducted and published scientific study with data findings conclusive enough to verify that levels of environmental toxins in the Arctic are on the decline since they were first found in the region. “The study pooled more than 1,000 samples taken over the course of several decades from many different locations throughout the Arctic Circle,” the article mentions. “In general, the so-called legacy POPs — those that have been eliminated or restricted from production — were shown to be decreasing over the past two to three decades, although some had decreased more than others.”
The findings of the study mentioned by Science Daily were mirrored in similar academic outlets worldwide. Although the United States is not itself a member of the Stockholm Convention, the US Chamber of Commerce was one of the global agencies which concurred with the findings of the NIST study, according to an article published by The Cordova Times last week.
“A portrait of an Inupiat Eskimo mother, father and son. Photographed in Noatak, Alaska, around 1929, by Edward S. Curtis.”
“POPs are particularly problematic in the Arctic because the ecosystem there is fragile, and pollution can come from sources both local and from thousands of miles away due to air and water currents,” the article says. “Researchers noted that POPs bioaccumulate, that is they build up faster in animals and humans than they can be excreted, and that exposure can increase up the food chain. Plankton exposed to POPs in water are eaten by schools of fish, which in turn are eaten by seals or whales, and with each jump up the food chain amounts of POPs increase, researchers said.”
Frequent ecoSPEARS readers may be familiar with past blog posts and news blurbs we have written covering environmental contamination issues in the Arctic region, particularly the concern of Indigenous Peoples’ traditional dietary customs and the passing-along of biomagnified PCBs and other toxins onto their offsprings through mothers’ breast milk. The conclusive evidence presented in NIST’s study may herald that the initiatives set forth by the Stockholm Convention are paving the way for a day when environmental contamination of man-made toxins are at levels deemed to be unharmful to the health of the Arctic’s peoples, wildlife, and environment.
Our final article this week comes from KT Press, as last week the African country of Rwanda declared it was taking initiatives to destroy PCB-contaminated waste from areas of concern to its human and wildlife populations. Rwanda is one of the many countries who signed to follow the initiatives set forth in the Stockholm Convention in 2001.
Electrical transformers such as these were a major source of PCB contamination in the 20th Century.
“Over 50 metric tons of electricity transformer oil which contains PCB elements have so far been collected and a process of destroying them kicked off last week,” says KT Press in its article. “The oils were detected in 100 transformers out of the 283 suspected to be contaminated with the substances among a total of 2,344 transformers in the country.”
The article continues to mention that a country-wide investigation into PCB source material in 2014 found an old construction site near Cimerwa Cement Plant as the likely culprit for much of Rwanda’s PCB-contaminated waste. PCB destruction has cost Rwanda over $1.2 million since 2007, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), but the country’s initiative to ban the production, sale, and distribution of PCB-contaminated material makes them the second African country to do so. The first was Morocco in 2017.
That’s all for this week, readers! As always, thank you for taking the time to read our posts and be sure to spread the word on good news in the environment so we can all celebrate some wins for the world, no matter how small!