Antarctic treaty parties urged to expand chemical pollution monitoring

A recent publication in The Lancet Planetary Health has emphasized the need for increased chemical pollution research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. The paper, led by Professor Susan Bengtson Nash from Griffith University, highlights the lack of comprehensive chemical monitoring frameworks in the region, which plays a crucial role in assessing planetary health.

The study, conducted by the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) Action Group—Input Pathways of Persistent Organic Pollutants to Antarctica (ImPACT), identifies four priority areas for research and research facilitation. The recommendations are aimed at Antarctic Treaty consultative parties, urging them to extend their national chemical monitoring programs to their research stations and territories in Antarctica.

The priorities outlined in the paper are as follows:

  1. Utilizing Antarctica as a natural laboratory for identifying persistent and mobile chemicals.
  2. Investigating the behavior, fate, and effects of chemicals in changing Antarctic ecosystems.
  3. Assessing the toxicological sensitivity of endemic Antarctic biota.
  4. Establishing sustained circumpolar chemical surveillance.

Professor Bengtson Nash emphasizes the urgent need for a significant shift in the global regulation of chemicals, similar to the response to climate change. In 2022, the UN Environment Assembly committed to establishing a UN Intergovernmental Science-policy Panel for the Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste and Pollution Prevention by 2024. This panel is expected to provide scientific assessments to policymakers, akin to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The study stresses that chemical pollution in polar regions serves as a vital indicator of planetary health, and robust data from these regions are essential for informing global chemical policies and decision-making processes. Currently, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean lack comprehensive pollution monitoring frameworks, and individual Antarctic Treaty parties’ international commitments are not always legally recognized in the region.

To address these gaps, Professor Bengtson Nash calls for Antarctic Treaty consultative parties to go beyond their legal obligations and extend their national chemical monitoring programs to their research stations and territories in Antarctica. Comprehensive research and monitoring programs that consider ecological drivers of change are crucial for developing longitudinal datasets and answering critical research questions for the protection of planetary health.

Source: Griffith University

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