Chapter 1. Introduction

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Stockholm Convention on POPs ( is a global agreement that came into effect on May 17, 2004. The objective of this Convention is to protect human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants. As a Party to the Convention, Canada has an obligation under Article 7 to develop and implement a National Implementation Plan (NIP).1

The purpose of the NIP is to inform the Conference of the Parties and the public regarding Canada's initiatives, current and projected, to meet the requirements of the Stockholm Convention. These initiatives include legislation, regulations, voluntary standards, policies, programs and other related measures, including actions by Canadians to manage and eliminate POPs in the environment. Article 5 of the Convention stipulates that the NIP include a National Action Plan (NAP) for reducing unintentionally produced POPs, including dioxins and furans, hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and PCBs.

Article 7(1)(b) of the Convention states that each Party must transmit its implementation plan to the Conference of the Parties within two years of the date on which this Convention enters into force for it. The Convention entered into force for Canada on May 17, 2004; therefore, Canada's NIP must be submitted before May 17, 2006. Canada will also conduct periodic reviews and updates of the NIP in accordance with schedules to be determined by the Conference of Parties.

Part I of this document is Canada's National Implementation Plan, including a review of actions and proposed actions related to the implementation of the Stockholm Convention obligations.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are organic compounds of natural or anthropogenic origin with a particular combination of physical and chemical properties such that, once released into the environment, they remain intact for exceptionally long periods of time as they resist photolytic, chemical and biological degradation.2 They include industrial chemicals such as PCBs, pesticides such as DDT and byproducts such as dioxins and furans. Characterized by low water solubility and high lipid solubility, POPs bioaccumulate in fatty tissues of living organisms, including humans, and are found at higher concentrations at higher levels in the food chain. Thus, humans, wildlife and other environmental organisms are exposed to POPs, in many cases for extended periods of time spanning generations, resulting in both acute and chronic toxic effects. Introduced to humans through the food chain, POPs are passed on from mother to child and are known to have significant immunological, neurological and reproductive health effects.

POPs are semi-volatile chemicals which evaporate from the regions in which they are used and are then transported over long distances in the atmosphere. They are also discharged directly or by atmospheric deposition into waterways and are transported by movement of fresh and marine waters. The result is widespread distribution of POPs across the globe, including regions where they have never been used. POPs occur at low levels in air and water, so human concerns arise from their ability to bioaccumulate in organisms rather than from direct exposure. POPs have a tendency to accumulate in fatty tissue of organisms and be transferred along terrestrial and aquatic food chains. People in the north who rely on marine mammals with a high fat content for good (e.g., ringed seal and beluga whales) are especially susceptible to high exposure of these pollutants. In Canada, the highest concentrations of POPs in aquatic life are found in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin, and in the Arctic. POPs also tend to accumulate in the cold lakes of the Canadian Shield and in cold alpine regions with high snowfalls, such as Canada's Rocky Mountains.

POPs are a global issue for the environment and for human health. They can cause birth defects, various cancers, immune system dysfunction, and reproductive problems in wildlife. The weight of evidence indicates that high levels of exposure over the long term may contribute to increasing rates of birth defects, fertility problems, greater susceptibility to disease, diminished intelligence, and some types of cancers in humans. Of major concern for human health is the effect of exposure to POPs on the developing fetus. POPs can accumulate in human tissues and pass through the placenta to the fetus. Furthermore, POPs have been detected in the breast milk of women throughout the world. Emerging evidence indicates that many POPs may act as endocrine disruptors. 3

Although concentrations of POPs currently listed under the Stockholm Convention have significantly declined in Canadian biota from the 1970s to the late 1990s, and today are generally less than half the levels of the 1970s, their persistence in the environment continues to affect the health and wellbeing of wildlife species and humans.

In recent decades, the risks posed by POPs have become of increasing concern in many countries, resulting in actions to protect human health and the environment being taken at the national, regional and international levels.

POPs enter the environment primarily as a result of human activity. Because they are semi-volatile chemicals, after their release into the environment, they travel in multiple cycles of evaporation, transport by air and condensation. Called the "cold condensation" or "grasshopper" effect, this process allows POPs to travel great distances. In the cooler climate of the Arctic, low evaporation rates trap POPs in the "Arctic sink", where they enter the food chain and biomagnify and bioaccumulate in marine mammals which form a substantial part of the Inuit diet.

POPs are an issue for Canadian human health. Scientific evidence shows that levels of PCBs in the blood of some Inuit women are higher than Health Canada guidelines, and levels of certain POPs in breast milk have been found to be up to nine times higher than in women who live in southern Canada. The geographic location and socio-economic activities of Aboriginal Northerners make them particularly susceptible because they eat country food that may contain POPs. Country food includes traditional food sources, especially wildlife such as seal, whale, caribou and fish. These foods are an important part of the northern diet and culture and research consistently demonstrates the benefits of traditional dietary practices to the health and wellbeing of northern Canadians.

Many traditional/country foods help people fight illness, injury and disease better than the popular market foods and provide the necessary dietary intake of most vitamins, essential elements and minerals. Harvesting traditional/country food is physically demanding and helps people stay fit. There are significant social, cultural and spiritual benefits to harvesting, preparing, sharing and consuming these foods. 4

POPs are not solely a northern issue. Concentrations of certain POPs in biota are even higher in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basins than in northern Canada, although contaminant concentrations in residents of these regions are less than those observed in the north, as species from these systems are not significant food sources.

There is a long-term concern in all regions of Canada because of the propensity for some POPs to accumulate over a lifetime and to be passed on from one generation to the next, mainly through breast milk.

On May 23, 2001, Canada became the first country to ratify the Stockholm Convention, a global agreement under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that will dramatically reduce or eliminate emissions of persistent organic pollutants. The Convention:

With ratification by 50 countries, the Convention entered into force on May 17, 2004.

Because the Convention includes obligations related to hazardous wastes and their transboundary movements, it is closely linked with the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal ( and the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (

By ratifying the Convention, Parties agree to the management and control of 12 POPs (sometimes known as the "dirty dozen") and to a formal process to consider adding additional substances to the Convention. The 12 POPs that were included when the Convention came into force (2004) fall into three broad categories: pesticides, industrial chemicals and unintentionally produced POPs. The following description of the three broad categories is based upon UNEP's Ridding the World of POPs: A Guide to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (2002) and provides the reader with a list of the substances and a summary of the key uses for each chemical (this is a summary only - other uses may exist or have existed in the past).


Industrial Chemicals:

Unintentionally Produced POPs:

Canada has been actively involved with growing global efforts to reduce and eliminate POPs, beginning with early research on the effects of POPs in the Great Lakes and the Arctic. This research was significant to global understanding of the problems caused by POPs and why international action was the only way to solve those problems. Canada's efforts towards the creation of a global treaty included active support of UNEP's 1995 Governing Council decision to invite the Inter-Organization Programme on the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC) and of the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) and the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) decision to initiate an assessment process of an initial list of 12 substances believed to be POPs. When the Council directed UNEP to convene an international negotiating committee (INC), with the mandate to develop an international legally binding instrument, Canada stepped forward and funded the first session of the INC, hosted in Montreal in 1998. A Canadian, Dr. John Buccini, was selected to Chair the INC and to lead the negotiations of the Convention.

Canada was the first country to commit financial assistance specific to the aims of the Convention, to aid developing countries and those with economies in transition to build their capacity to deal with POPs. The Government of Canada created the $CDN 20 million Canada POPs Fund in March 2000. By June of 2003, the last date for which summary level information is available, 67 projects had been funded. A significant portion of these funds was used for education and awareness projects among developing countries and countries with economies in transition and for inventory building, thus assisting national governments with their decisions to sign and ratify the Convention.

Canada participated at all INC meetings leading to agreement on the Convention, operating in a unique manner. Traditionally, delegations to international negotiations include government officials only. As is the case with negotiations on other international agreements, Canada's delegation to the Stockholm Convention's INC meetings included federal government officials, as well as representatives from provincial/territorial governments, northern aboriginal communities, environmental non-governmental organizations, and industry. Canada was the only country to include non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on its delegation and their contributions to final negotiations around issues such as exemptions for DDT use were significant.

With the entry into force of the Convention, Canada maintains active involvement in Convention committees and working groups, including but not limited to those on financial mechanisms, legal issues, evaluation, global monitoring, best available technologies and best environmental practices, environmentally sound management of wastes, and criteria for identifying further persistent organic pollutants as candidates for international action.

1 Article 7 (Implementation Plans) states:

  1. Each Party shall:
    (a) Develop and endeavour to implement a plan for the implementation of its obligations under this Convention;
    (b) Transmit its implementation plan to the Conference of the Parties within two years of the date
    on which this Convention enters into force for it; and
    (c) Review and update, as appropriate, its implementation plan on a periodic basis and in a manner to be specified by a decision of the Conference of the Parties.
  2. The Parties shall, where appropriate, cooperate directly or through global, regional and subregional organizations, and consult their national stakeholders, including women's groups and groups involved in the health of children, in order to facilitate the development, implementation and updating of their implementation plans.
  3. The Parties shall endeavour to utilize and, where necessary, establish the means to integrate national implementation plans for persistent organic pollutants in their sustainable development strategies where appropriate.

2 Buccini, John (2001) "Implementing Global Action on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Under the Stockholm Convention: Issues and Opportunities", Abstract, Eco-informa 2001, Environmental Risks and the Global Community, Strategies for Meeting the Challenges, Argonne National Laboratory, May 14-18, 2001

3 Fisher, Brandy E., "Most Unwanted: Persistent Organic Pollutants", Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 107, No. 1, January 1999.

4 Canadian Arctic Contaminants Assessment Report II: Highlights (2003), Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, p. 13

5 Canada is a Party to both the Basel and Rotterdam Conventions.

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