Ramping up our POPs monitoring role

By February 23rd, 2011

An investigation into the effectiveness of international efforts to eliminate or restrict the use of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) – such as DDT, dieldrin and other toxic compounds – will begin next month when CSIRO starts a new atmospheric monitoring program.

As a Party to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, Australia and 172 other countries are committed to eliminating or restricting the production and use of a range of chemicals that pose a major, long-term threat to humans and the environment.

CSIRO atmospheric scientist, Dr Melita Keywood, said POPs typically have the ability to: remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically and accumulate in the fatty tissues of humans and animals.

“Some POPs can be transported through atmospheric dispersion to other regions and continents, thousands of kilometres from where they were originally used,” Dr Keywood said.

“New datasets resulting from this sampling will also be used to develop and test atmospheric chemical transport models,”

Dr Melita Keywood said.

Previous research conducted under the National Dioxins Program by CSIRO scientists, Dr John Gras and Dr Mick Meyer, established that levels of several chemicals – including polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and furans – were highest in the Australian atmosphere following major fires such as wild or controlled bushfires and farm plant burn-offs.

“With this background knowledge we are initiating a monitoring program at sites in north-west Tasmania, south-east Melbourne and Darwin,” Dr Keywood said. “Together with a review of the science, this will give us a baseline of information which we can use to identify trends as well as a wider network of permanent sites for detecting the presence of dioxins.

“New datasets resulting from this sampling will also be used to develop and test atmospheric chemical transport models.”

The same monitoring will be used to establish baseline levels of mercury in the air which will assist Australia in participating in the United Nations Environment Programme’s efforts to develop a global approach to reducing population and ecosystem exposure to mercury.

The $1.4 million research project – initiated and funded by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, which represents the Australian Government under the Stockholm Convention – could be used to inform future atmospheric monitoring.

Australia is required to report its data on 12 pollutants by 2015.

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