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Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) – Enduring Toxins

Toxins known as POPs live up to their name: persistent organic pollutants. These organic compounds resist degradation and travel freely in both particulate and gaseous states. Their contamination is of global concern, as traces have been found even in the pristine snows of Antarctica.

These chemicals have the potential to injure living organisms. They bioaccumulate in fatty tissues, and they are passed along and become more concentrated as they are ingested and move up the food chain. A good example of this, known as biomagnification, is found in a 1997 study on Arctic Pollution Issues; the study found that caribou had up to 10 times the level of PCBs as the lichens they ate, and the wolves that fed on caribou had almost 60 times as much as the lichen.

Where do POPs come from?

Some POPs were produced for use in manufacturing or other industrial processes, agriculture or diseases control, such as PCBs and DDT. Some are byproducts of industrial processes or combustion (like dioxins), including medical waste incineration. Most have been developed since World War II; although many developed countries have tried to ban or minimize their use, they are still freely used in some developing countries.


One group of POPs, knows as PFAs (per – and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are widely used in consumer goods and industrial applications, such as chemicals used as fire retardants and stain, grease and water repellents. They are commonly used on carpeting, furniture, clothing, nonstick cookware and utensils, microwave popcorn bags and fast food wrappers.

PFAs found in drinking water supplies around over 100 U.S. military bases from firefighting foam exposed thousands of people to these toxins; the Pentagon found they were linked to cancers and developmental delay in infants and fetuses. The Department of Defense is working to reduce discharge of PFAs and is working with the CDC to study the health of exposed populations.

The Stockholm Convention

As POPs know no boundaries, an international treaty was adopted in 2001 in Stockholm, Sweden, that requires the parties to take steps to eliminate or reduce the release of twelve prioritized POPS in an effort to protect the environment and human health; others have since been added to the list. A global monitoring plan was established to provide a framework for collecting data to track POPs and identify changes in their concentration. They have established regional centers in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean; the United States is not a party to this global program.

World Health Organization

The World Health Organization has been collecting and evaluating information on POPs in foods, including human milk, since 1976. WHO recognizes the value of breast feeding, and it has coordinated three international studies of the levels of POPs in human milk, maternal blood and adipose tissue; its studies are aimed at both identifying levels of exposure and providing guidance on the need to reduce the presence of POPs in food, the main source of exposure.

U.S. Reverses Protection

The U.S. Environment Protection Agency recently reversed its decision to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide which is linked to neurological developmental issues in children. EPA scientists and the American Academy of Pediatrics urged the EPA to ban the pesticide, and the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Protection found that the chemical had harmful effects on children’s brain development. Dow Chemical, producer of chlorpyrifos, is a heavy political contributor and lobbyist, and its CEO met with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt shortly before the reversal was announced.

Minimize Exposure Through Smart Purchasing Decisions

Buy organic. A study of four families from across the country tracked pesticide levels in their urine for two weeks. In the first round of tests, every person tested had detectable levels of 14 chemicals tested. After switching to an organic diet, all pesticide levels in their urine dropped by an average of 50%, and malathion levels dropped by 95%.

To help with your purchasing decisions, as most of us can’t buy everything organic, learn which foods are cleanest and dirtiest through organizations like the Environmental Working Group (

Also, eating lots of fibrous foods and green vegetables can decrease contaminants in the body. Cutting back on take-out fast food and microwave popcorn would also be wise.

Avoid buying stain and water-resistant products and personal care products with PTFE or “Fluoro” ingredients.

Advocate for policies that will reduce production and use of, as well as exposure to, toxic chemicals.

Purity Matters: The 955 Difference - learn about it here:

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