Chapter 3.3: Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are toxic chemical compounds that, when released into the environment, do not degrade or break down for long periods of time.  As such, they are able to travel long distances in the wind and water and potentially impact the environment far from where they are released. These harmful substances can accumulate in organisms and pass from one species to another up the food web.   To address this global concern, 90 countries came together to sign the Stockholm Convention in 2001, agreeing to reduce or eliminate the production, use, and release of 12 key POPs.  However, the long-lived nature of these pollutants means that, even with the treaty in place, many areas are still exposed to these toxic chemicals.

Before you start this case study, visit the web sites listed here to review background information about persistent organic pollutants.



Background Materials:

A listing of POPs and some general information on each can be found at:

Information about the Stockholm Convention can be viewed at their website:

To learn more about how POPs move from the tropics to polar regions, check out

For information about Canada’s Arctic monitoring program, visit

Textbook References and Links:

Exercise 1: Scientific American article on the release of pollutants from Arctic ice:

Exercise 4:  Canadian Arctic Contaminant Assessment Report III executive report:
and full paper:

Exercise 5:  NASA’s OMPS webpage  and

Exercise 7:  Choy et al. articles on pollutant transport by fulmars: (mercury) (POPs)

Exercise 9:  Health effects among Inuit children: (O’Brien et al.) (Boucher et al.)


Downloadable data and files:

Exercise 4:  Canadian Arctic Contaminant Assessment Report 2013.pdf

Exercise 7:  Choy 2010 mercury.pdf and Choy 2010 POPs.pdf

Exercise 9:  O’Brien 2010.pdf and Boucher 2012.pdf