November 11, 2010
Visiting Expert Warns Of Toxins
Professor Paul Ehrlich, senior statesman of the environmental movement, and currently visiting Australia, today joined with Australian researchers to warn of the danger of man-made chemicals accumulating in the environment and the tissues of living organisms, including people.
Speaking at a public meeting organised by the University of Adelaide's Environment Institute, Professor Ehrlich said the continuing contamination by artificial and other toxic compounds released into the environment by people and industry is one of the great sleeper issues of our time."ËWhile western countries have made some progress in reducing a range of contaminant emissions in the last 30 years, we have now entered a period of intense growth by less developed countries (LDCs) that threatens to globally overwhelm the gains made by the west', said Professor Ehrlich.
"ËAt the same time there are many toxic compounds already out there released by western industry that will be around for a long time. They include mercury, lead, arsenic, organochlorines, drugs and hormones, circulating through ecosystems and into our food and water supplies', he said.
"ËWe don't know nearly enough about most of them or how they might affect our health in the long term, especially mixed together. There may be surprises ahead that we won't like.'
Professor Ehrlich gave the example of arctic communities where hormone-mimicking chemicals are suspected of being responsible for twice as many female babies being born as male.
According to Professor Ehrlich, global toxification ranks with climate disruption and acute biodiversity loss as one of the world's most serious environmental problems.
Professor Ravi Naidu, CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE), based at the University of SA, said Professor Ehrlich's message reinforced what Australian scientists have been saying.
"ËWe know that Australia has over 160,000 contaminated sites, and that it is going to take a long time to clean them all up. There are unknown, complex mixtures of contaminants involved, and it will simply be too expensive for industry and the taxpayer to do it quickly', Professor Naidu said.
However, Australian scientists are showing how different levels and types of pollution can be managed so that risks to human health are minimised.
"ËWe now have the capability to generate solutions for many sites around Australia', Professor Naidu said, "Ëand a solid research capability here in Australia that will enable us to continue to develop innovative solutions to contamination', he said.
"ËWe also have an increasingly aware industry prepared to invest in solutions, and governments prepared to pass the tough regulatory measures needed.'
Australia is well positioned compared to some of the LDCs now rapidly industrialising, and has a lot to offer them in terms of science and experience, according to Professor Naidu. CRC CARE has research in China and is training Chinese PhD students in Adelaide.
"ËProfessor Ehrlich's views on these matters are very timely for us in Australia', Professor Naidu said.
They are an important reminder that many types of contamination are now global, and that the advanced economies like ours have an immense responsibility to research and inform the world about the toxic load in our shared environment.
Australia has the scientific capacity to help, and must be part of a global network that contributes solutions for the sake of human health everywhere, he said.
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