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Gunns, pulp mills and POPs « Previous | |Next »
March 25, 2007

The Stockholm Convention is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants (POPs) POPs are chemicals, such as organochlorines, that are toxic to humans and wildlife; remain intact in the environment for long periods; become widely distributed geographically; and accumulate in the fatty tissue of living organisms. Signatory nations must eliminate or reduce the release of POPs. Australia is a signatory to the Stockholm Convention and so is obliged by the Stockholm Convention to apply the Precautionary Principle in addressing the problems of POPs.

So is the risk of producing unacceptable levels of deadly and persistent organochlorines too high from the bleaching process in the Gunns' pulp mill? Little is being publicly said about this issue. What we do know is that the bleaching process proposed by Gunns for its pulp mill in the Tamar Valley uses chlorine dioxide, and that most of the evidence about the dioxin discharged by pulp mills point to the chlorine bleaching process. We also know that among the most deadly organo-chlorines are dioxins: potent, toxic chemical by-products of chlorine bleaching that get into the air, water, soil, and food chain.

Once released, these chemicals persist in the environment, spread through the food chain, accumulate in fatty tissues and disrupt, mimic, and block the hormone systems of living organisms. Hormones actively regulate the reproductive, learning, behavioral and disease fighting capabilities of humans and wildlife and are transferred from mother to fetus, in utero and through breast milk.

The Stockholm Convention says the following about dioxins:

These chemicals are produced unintentionally due to incomplete combustion, as well as during the manufacture of certain pesticides and other chemicals. In addition, certain kinds of metal recycling and pulp and paper bleaching can release dioxins. Dioxins have also been found in automobile exhaust, tobacco smoke and wood and coal smoke.

I guess the assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act will have to assess the existence of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and do so in the light of the Australian Government being obligated to act in accordance with its international treaty obligations. Many Liberals in Canberra would not like that as they are in favour of the pulp mill.

However, dioxins is serious stuff as research has indicated that minute exposures to organochlorines can lead to cancer, loss of reproductive capabilities, developmental and behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, birth defects, and damaged immune systems.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:13 PM |