One of the main focuses of the organisation is an international ban on the so called Dirty Dozen. This group of chemicals, chosen from the 80,000 chemicals in use worldwide, was decided by the international community as THE most important to be eliminated. They include PCBs, phenyls, old pesticides and dioxins. They are all highly, highly toxic and accumulate in our bodies. They do not respect national borders, traveling by air and water to be deposited far and wide. Some of the highest levels of these chemicals can be found at The Arctic, even though they have never been used there.
These chemicals are also retained in wildlife, which is how the world first became aware of their deadly effects. In the late 1970s, people noticed massive differences in seal populations, which were being wiped out by strange diseases and viruses. Researchers found high levels of toxins, which, unfortunately, were also immunotoxic and reproductive toxic, further aggravating the devastation. Other instances of unwanted effects in marine mammals alerted the researchers into looking at the effects on humans.
What they found was a real smoking gun – dioxins. Dioxins are the most persistent chemical of the Deadly Dozen. As well as being highly toxic and bio-accumulative, they also hang around for decades. Whilst the presence of dioxins can be measured in nanograms, they are so bio-active that they still have effects and are passed on for generations. We all carry a “load” of these toxins courtesy of a contaminated food chain.
Unfortunately, dioxins will play a part at the recently approved pulp mill in Tasmania and the scientific understandings about these toxic chemicals have been sidelined in the political process. A major part of that political process is to use terms such as “World’s Best Practice”. This is a term that cannot be defined since there is nowhere in the world with a set of standards for comparable purposes. “World’s Best Practice” is a term that sits alongside “sound science”, a term coined by the tobacco industry in the 1970s and 1980s in their campaign to sideline the medical evidence on smoking-induced cancer.
And just what exactly is the World’s Best Practice that Minister Turnbull mentions? The World Bank is funding a very large pulp mill in South America and because the standards of the Tasmanian mill are better, it is claimed as World’s Best Practice. Is it better than the economically viable Swedish pulp mills that use a chlorine free process without producing dioxins? Do we really need to release dioxins into the water and the air? When is Australia going to act on its obligations under the Stockholm Convention to reduce and, wherever possible, eliminate these toxic chemicals? Why was our Chief Scientist given a narrow brief about emissions and not allowed to probe the effects of dioxins released into the air?
The Stockholm Convention seems to sit with the Kyoto Protocols as far as Australian environmental management goes and there is a despondent amount of political support for intervention from the major parties.
Australia is an economically rich country but as far as the environment goes we seem to be loaded with bullets.
Text: V.B. Graphics: www.oxtoxics.org