From: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Published October 23, 2017 11:27 AM

Tracing toxins around the world

In 1995, the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Program called for a united, global effort to reduce persistent organic pollutants (POPs) — synthetic chemicals such as PCBs, DDT, and dioxins. The compounds were known to persist and accumulate far from their sources, polluting the environment and causing adverse health effects in humans.

As work on a global treaty progressed, Noelle Eckley Selin, then a college intern at the Environmental Protection Agency, had the opportunity to play a small part in the process that eventually produced the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. She was tasked in 1997 with evaluating potential chemicals as add-ons to the “dirty dozen” that the treaty proposed to regulate.

“The treaty was designed as a dynamic instrument, so countries could add chemicals to it to respond to emerging threats,” recalls Selin, now a tenured associate professor in MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). “But the EPA wanted to know what scientific criteria to use to choose those substances. So I had to go into the dusty basement of the EPA and look up how long these random chemicals persisted in the environment.”

Read more at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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