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Major Revision of International Chemical Regulation Required

A horizon scan of chemical pollution research requirements in Antarctica has urged a call for the Antarctic Treaty consultative parties to broaden their national chemical monitoring programs to include their Antarctic research stations and Territories.

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The “Personal View” paper, published in The Lancet Planetary Health and guided by Griffith University’s Professor Susan Bengtson Nash from the Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security, indicates a lack of chemical pollution monitoring frameworks in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean regions, which serve as barometers for planetary health.

In 2021, the UN announced global chemical pollution as one part of a “triplet planetary crisis” (along with climate change and biodiversity loss). The horizon test was conducted by the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) Action Group–Input Pathways of Persistent Organic Pollutants to Antarctica (ImPACT).

Four main research and research facilitation deficits were identified, with recommendations for Antarctica Treaty parties on how to address these gaps strategically. They are as follows:

  • Priority 1: Using Antarctica as a natural laboratory for identifying persistent and mobile chemicals.
  • Priority 2: Research into the chemical behavior, fate, and effects of changing Antarctic ecosystems.
  • Priority 3: Assessing the toxicological sensitivity of endemic Antarctic biota.
  • Priority 4: Maintaining continuous circumpolar chemical surveillance

The advanced stage of this global threat calls for a step-change in the way in which chemicals are regulated globally. In response, in 2022 the UN Environment Assembly (UN-EA) committed to establishing a UN Intergovernmental Science-policy Panel for the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste and Pollution Prevention by 2024. This body is envisaged to serve in the same role as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; that is, to provide policymakers with scientific assessments.

Susan Bengtson Nash, Professor, Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security, Griffith University

Chemical pollution at the Earth’s poles, like climate change, serves as a barometer of Planetary Health, and robust data from these places play an important role in supporting global chemical policy, assessments, and decision-making.

Professor Bengtson Nash stated that pollution monitoring frameworks are currently inadequate in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean region, with global efforts frequently being neutralized by the lack of legal recognition of particular Antarctic Treaty parties’ international commitments in the region.

Timely progress in the field of Antarctic chemical research calls for Antarctic Treaty consultative parties to transcend what is legally required of them, and to extend their national chemical monitoring programs to their Antarctic research stations and Territories.

Susan Bengtson Nash, Professor, Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security, Griffith University

Nash continues, "Holistically designed chemical research and monitoring programs, that encompass ecological drivers of change, will facilitate the construction of novel longitudinal datasets that can be used to answer vital research questions for the protection of Planetary Health."

Journal Reference:

Nash, S. B., et al. Monitoring persistent organic chemicals in Antarctica in support of global chemical policy: a horizon scan of priority actions and challenges. The Lancet Planetary Health. doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(23)00076-1.

Source: https://www.griffith.edu.au/

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