Persistent Organic Pollutants

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) such as DDT, PCBs or dioxins are toxic substances, which have strong toxicity and remain in the environment for long time to be accumulated in organisms with high concentration and seriously damage humans and ecosystem. UNEP has declared the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2011 and issued it in 2004; Korea ratified the convention in January, 2007. In order to fulfill the Stockholm Convention, which regulated the production and emission of 12 types toxic chemicals including PCBs, Dioxins, etc., Korea has enacted 「Persistent Organic Pollutants Control Act」in January, 2007, enforced in January, 2008, establishing and promoting response strategy at the governmental level for a systematic management of POPs.

14 agricultural pesticides among 21 POPs types by the Stockholm Convention were not yet introduced domestically, or cancelled its registration and prohibited the use. Thus, a special management is not required. However, it is continuously being monitored through investigation of persistent concentration using a monitoring network. 7 POPs (Dioxins, PCBs, perfluorinated compounds, brominated flame retardants (BFR)) being used and produced in Korea are managed with various management policies.

As for dioxin, 'national emission level for dioxin in 2011' was firstly presented based on actual measurement in October, 2005. Furthermore, a 'national emission for dioxin (emission list)' is presented through the investigation of emitter and emission amount. As a result of national emission analysis for dioxin, the amount of dioxin released to atmosphere was 126.6g I-TEQ/year in 2009; reduced by 87%, 23% compared to 2001 (1,004g I-TEQ/year) and 2007 (164.5g I-TEQ/year), respectively. These significant reductions could be achieved by various policies continuously promoted to reduce the emission of dioxin through setting and strengthening of emission allowance standards, monitoring on dioxin concentration by operating a monitoring network and improving facilities through measurement and inspection of facilities releasing dioxin.

Various methods have been discussed for PCBs to be treated in ecofriendly manner and for 3 years since 2007, the PCBs containing waste treatment technologies were developed in consideration of domestic conditions through demonstration of high temperature incineration, treatment by high temperature incineration and chemical treatment for PCBs containing waste. Since a ground has been established to eradicate PCBs by the enforcement of 「Persistent Organic Pollutants Control Act」and receiving reports on PCBs equipment to write PCBs inventory list from the owner of such oil immersed type transformer, the KEPCO (Korea Electric Power Corporation) treated about 15,000 waste transformers that has been accumulated until the end of 2010. Starting from 2011, KEPCO establishes a system to treat goods produced in each month.

On the other hand, KEPCO built an 'integrated DB system ( for PCBs containing equipment' that allows collecting equipment together from scatters to manage for national inventory list preparation and safe management of PCBs containing equipment. The system has been operating since May, 2010.

Industrial POPs, which are PFOS (perfluorinated compounds) and brominated flame retardants (BFR) that are gaining international attention and additionally registered in 2009 are regulated based on the enforcement of decrees under the「Persistent Organic Pollutants Control Act」revised in April, 2011. In order to secure basic data to understand the pollution condition of new POPs and establish a management plan by identifying persistent concentration of new POPs and analyzing influential factor, the following were promoted: ① Study (’05~’07) on the real condition of perfluorinated compounds in major rivers, lakes and ocean nationwide, ② Study on persistence of suspected endocrine disrupter in the environment (focused on brominated flame retardants, 2008), ③ Study of spatio-temporal distribution of new POPs in the environment and estimation study on emission (’10~’12) and ④ Study of the real condition of brominated flame retardants in electric, electronic device wastes.

The Stockholm Convention regulates the production and uses of 12 toxictants and their environmental emission including dioxin, PCBs, etc. In order to fulfill this convention, Korea has enacted 「Persistent Organic Pollutants Control Act」in January, 2007 and written NIP (National Implementation Plan) based on the Article 7 (Implementation Plan) of above agreement in April, 2009 and submitted it to the conference of the parties. Also the Ministry of Environment has revised the enforcement of degrees under the 「Persistent Organic Pollutants Control Act」in April, 2011 and institutionally reflected 9 new POPs through the ratification procedure for the amendment of Stockholm Convention, finally issuing NIP in December, 2011 and submitted it to the agreement secretariat.

Also as a monitoring project to evaluate the performances of Stockholm Convention implementation, Korea is promoting database of POPs monitoring results from each country in East Asia, data sharing and data exchange with international organizations. In this project, 10 countries in East Asia (Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongol, Philippine, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) are currently participating and have been holding a workship every year since 2005. Also 'country customized POPs analysis training' is combined and conducted to improve analysis skill of POPs monitoring participant country in East Asia since 2011.

Management of Suspected Endocrine Disruptors

Since suspected endocrine disruptors have been at the center of international attention since the late 1990s, the Ministry of Environment established a 'mid-long term research plan for suspected endocrine disruptors' and implemented study on persistence condition in environment and ecological impacts since 1999. In March, 2007, the ministry has established '5 years (’07~’11)' plan for investigation and management of suspected endocrine disruptors' to respond all together in cooperation with related ministries. Accordingly, the Ministry of Environment is promoting the following study and investigation under the supervision of the National Institute of Environmental Research:

1)Study on persistent condition in environment for suspected endocrine disruptors including phthalate group, alkylphenol group in 115 places nationwide, air, water quality, ground or soil
2)Study on economic impacts including examination of fish tissue and analysis of concentration accumulated in the organism
3) Joint study on pollution of PBDEs related ground, ocean environment, body and food with related ministries
4)Evaluation of toxicity using domestic distinct organism species and application of analysis technique using in vitro essay

Since 1999, the National Institute of Environmental Research has investigated the persistent condition in environment, focusing on total 99 places including major rivers and industrial complexes containing suspected endocrine disruptors in Korea. As a result, 27 out of 48 investigated substances were detected from one or more environmental media. Especially, the substances continuously detected from water or ground for the last 5 years (’04~’08) were 12 different types, including phthalate group. Dioxin in the atmosphere was continuously reduced since the beginning of investigation of average detection concentration in 1999 and the area exceeding the air quality standards (0.6pg) is not found. In the result of ecological impacts, the frequency of abnormal reproductive cells in fish was shown to be high. However, it was similar level to the results of investigation conducted in non-polluted area and overseas including the UK or Netherlands. To see the feminization indicator of male, the average concentration of vitellogenin in investigated male carp was 0.48~8.35㎍/㎖, similar to average concentration of male carp in non-polluted area. 

Response to Tightened International Regulations on Chemicals Including Mercury

As an internationally emerged issue these days, the international agreement related to mercury is in a rapid process for establishment. Mercury Convention aiming at the reduction of mercury use and emission was agreed in January, 2013.

Domestically, as a result of heavy metal concentration in the citizen's body, the blood mercury concentration was detected 5 to 6 times higher than that of  advanced countries. However, due to lack of basic study on mercury, the necessity of systematic management plan was raised to closely combine mercury management by media such as water and atmosphere and be aware of interventional regulation such as response to mercury agreement. Finally, a comprehensive plan (‘05, ’10) on mercury management had been established.

About KRW 15.7 billion is consumed to strengthen a basis for mercury management in the second planning period (‘11~’15), and Korea faithfully implements it through regular evaluation by holding annual conferences to promote a comprehensive plan on mercury management.

The vision of the plan is「minimizing health risk caused by mercury pollution」, it is expected to reduce the number of people exceeding the national blood mercury concentration (EPA recommended level 5.8㎍/L) from 26.2% in 2009 to 15% in 2015. Korea is promoting 37 projects in 5 areas in an aim to establish response system to international agreement on mercury.

Promotion of Projects to Secure Nano Substance Safety

Korea has been participating in the OECD nano production working level meeting and related international cooperation projects since 2006. Korea produced toxicity testing information on 5 nano materials (silver nano, titanium dioxide, multiwalled carbon nanotube, silica and gold nano) and established its test technique. Korea submitted Tour de Table and Fact Sheet to the OECD secretariat in 2011, published and distributed assessment on environmental exposure of manufactured nano substances and a guideline for safety management. In 2012, Korea secured data on risk of domestic manufactured nano substances and submitted national report by participating in OECD international safety cooperation projects.

In addition, Korea is investigating the distribution and detailed conditions to secure basic data for safety management of nano substances that are domestically distributed since 2011.

On the other hand, for the precautionary management of potential risk and support of strengthening nano-technology and industrial competitiveness, Korea has established and promoted 「The First Comprehensive Plan on Nano Safety Management (’12~’16)」at the governmental level in 2011, based on 「Mid-term plan for Nano Safety Management (’10~’14)」established in 2010 at the level of the Ministry of Environment through collecting and systematically promoting ongoing projects and policies related to nano safety implemented by each department. This plan has been confirmed through the result of national awareness on nano safety (May, 2011), meetings with related departments (5 times, January~July, 2011), professional forums (2 times, April~June, 2011), workshop (July, 2011) and Cabinet council (October, 25, 2011).

Last modified : 2013-10-29 18:01

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