Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

"POPs" Culture

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

"POPs" Culture

Article excerpt

If there is one form of industrial innovation that we can definitely do without, it is the kind that is continually producing new persistent organic pollutants (POPs)--toxins so potent and durable that current emissions may still be causing cancer and birth defects 1,000 years from now.

Organochlorine pesticides are the class of products that has created what are probably the most notorious POPs (see chart). It is hardly surprising that pesticides are a major ingredient in our stew of dangerous chemicals; after all, pesticides are designed to be toxic and they are produced in enormous quantities.

Since 1945, global production of pesticides has increased an estimated 26-fold, from 0.1 million tons to 2.7 million tons, although growth has slowed in the last 15 years as health and environmental concerns have inspired an increasing number of bans, primarily in industrialized countries.

Although these restrictions have reduced the total quantity of pesticides used, the toxicity of some pesticides has continued to grow. Current pesticide formulations are 10 to 100 times as toxic as they were in 1975.

Today, pesticide manufacturers usually want their products to have a high acute toxicity and low chronic toxicity. They're looking for compounds that kill quickly but do not haunt the field indefinitely; as a result, organochlorines, with their substantial chronic toxicities, no longer have the universal appeal they once did.

Newer pesticides are less likely to contain chlorine. This is obviously good, but not good enough, for two reasons: (1) non-organochlorine pesticides also sometimes turn out to be POPs, and (2) nearly all of the old products are still with us anyway. They persist in the environment, and most are still used in developing countries.

(Adapted with the permission of Worm Watch magazine, March/April 2000 and World Watch Institute [c] 2000, Washington, D. …

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