POPs in Latin America: A review of persistent organic pollutant levels in Latin America

Publication - 1 December, 2000

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Executive summary: Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are a group of chemicals which are very resistant tonatural breakdown processes and are therefore extremely stable and long-lived. POPs are not only persistent in the environment but many are also highly toxic and build up (bioaccumulate) in the tissues of animals and humans. Most do not occur in nature butare synthetic chemicals released as a result of anthropogenic activities. Vast amounts ofPOPs have been released into the environment and due to long-distance transport on air currents, POPs have become widespread pollutants and now represent a global contamination problem. Certain POPs have been responsible for some catastrophiceffects in wildlife, ranging from interference with sexual characteristics to dramaticpopulation losses. POPs are suspected of causing a broad range of adverse health impacts in humans and there is evidence that current levels of POPs in women in the general population of some countries is sufficient to cause subtle undesirable effects intheir babies due to transfer of these contaminants across the placenta and via breast milk.In recent decades, numerous POPs have been produced in large quantities worldwide and many are still in production and use. Some POPs, such as dioxins and furans, are not produced intentionally but are generated as by-products of many industrial processes, particularly combustion processes. Several POPs, notably certainorganochlorine pesticides such as DDT and technical grade HCH, have been completely banned in industrialised countries and banned from agricultural use in most less industrialised countries. However, due to the persistence of these pesticides, high levels remain in many regions of the globe. Moreover, in some less industrialised countries,including Latin America, organochlorine pesticides, particularly DDT, are still used insanitation campaigns against vector borne diseases such as malaria. In addition, illegaluse of organochlorine pesticides often cannot be ruled out.This report draws together published scientific literature on levels of POPs in the environment and in animals and humans of Latin America. The report reveals that there is a great lack of research on levels of POPs in Latin America in comparison to countries of the Northern Hemisphere. An overall insight into the state of contamination of Latin America is therefore impossible. However, available research does at leasthighlight the state of POPs contamination in some regions of Latin America.

Num. pages: 93