International prohibition of the pesticide endosulfan

In early May the Parties to the Stockholm Convention agreed to ban use of the pesticide endosulfan. This pesticide has highly detrimental effects not only on human health but also in the environment, where it persists and can be transported over long distances.

Geir Wing Garbrielsen and Nicholas Warner does research on birds in the Fram Centre lab

Researchers Geir Wing Garbrielsen (left) from the Norwegian Polar Institute and Nicholas Warner from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) taking samples from seabirds to chart the accumulation of environmental pollutants in the animals. Photo: Ole Magnus Rapp

Dead glaucous gull on a nest in Svalbard

Dead glaucous gull on a nest. Photo: Hallvard Strøm / Norwegian Polar Institute

Glaciologist Elisabeth Isaksson holding up an ice core during fieldwork

Endosulfan has been detected in ice cores from Svalbard. Glaciologist Elisabeth Isaksson holding up an ice core during fieldwork. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

Ecotoxicological studies of air, ice and animals in Canada and Svalbard – far from release sites – have been crucial in prompting the Parties of the Stockholm Convention to prohibit the use of endosulfan.

– The fact that we now have a global ban against endosulfan is yet another example of how the ecotoxicological studies we and others do provide important results that can get dangerous substances off the market. This time, once again, data on environmental pollutants in the Arctic has been an important factor in getting the pesticide endosulfan banned, said senior scientist Geir Wing Gabrielsen from the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Gabrielsen is head of the ecotoxicology research programme at the Polar Institute and has studied environmental pollutants in the Arctic for many years, for example through the research programme Contaminants in polar regions (COPOL). Scientists at the Polar Institute have detected pollutants in several animal species from the Arctic, including several seabirds. Endosulfan is also one of the pollutants discovered in the glacier Austfonna in Svalbard (article in Norwegian) by Norwegian Polar Institute glaciologist Elisabeth Isaksson and her colleagues.

Erik Solheim, the Minister of the Environment and International Development, considers the ban against endosulfan a major step forward in the efforts to stop the spread of environmental pollutants.

– Environmental pollutants are a global challenge and therefore international regulations are required, he said in a press release (article in Norwegian).

Endosulfan is used as a pesticide. It has extremely adverse effects on health; it impacts the nervous system and is poisonous when ingested. As an environmental pollutant, it is toxic to fish and accumulates in the food chain. When released to the environment it is extremely persistent, and has even been found in the Arctic – far from the source sites. Endosulfan has been banned in Norway since 1999.

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is the most important agreement regulating pollutants on a global scale. It came into force in 2004 and over 170 countries have ratified it. The Stockholm Convention now regulates 22 polluting substances. In the beginning, it included 12 persistent organic pollutants, including DDT, PCB and dioxins. 9 more substances were regulated in 2009, among them two brominated flame retardants, the pesticide lindane, and PFOS and related perfluorinated compounds.