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Scientists analyse contamination of environment for UN

Experts from Masaryk University help the UN with monitoring of toxic substances in the environment.

The serious ailments that go hand in hand with today's civilization have many causes. These include toxic substances that enter the environment – either intentionally or as by-products of industrial production – as a result of a wide range of human activities.

Among the most toxic are dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls and organochlorine insecticides, all of which are persistent organic pollutants. The monitoring of these compounds is one of the main areas of interest of the Research Centre for Toxic Compounds in the Environment (Recetox) at the Faculty of Science, which in recent years has worked closely on the issue with the United Nations Environment Programme.

A typical feature of these compounds is their ability to accumulate in organisms and thus have a long-term negative impact on them. The production and use of the most hazardous compounds was restricted by the 2004 Stockholm Convention, to which 178 countries are signatories. “It is necessary, of course, to monitor if the concentration of toxic substances in the environment and in people has truly been reduced consequent to measures accepted under the terms of the Convention," says Jana Klánová of Recetox, which is also the Regional Centre of the Stockholm Convention for Capacity Building and Transfer of Technology in Central and Eastern European Countries. “Monitoring of levels of persistent organic pollutants worldwide is addressed by a Global Monitoring Plan. Harmful substances are measured in the atmosphere and in breast milk and their spatial and long-term trends analysed."

Klánová explains that cooperation with the UN was instigated first and foremost by the monitoring activities of centres in different parts of the world. Its international prestige has been boosted by the Genasis information system, developed by Recetox and Masaryk University's Institute of Biostatics and Analyses. This is a database and web portal whose original purpose was to provide information on the concentration of toxic substances in the atmosphere, earth, water and human tissue in the Czech Republic. The database now comprises over 600 records from twenty years of monitoring toxic substances in over fifty countries of the world.

Thanks to cooperation with the UN, in recent days MU scientists have launched the portal of the Global Monitoring Plan, which makes available data from the first worldwide collection, performed in 2008. Apart from information on Recetox the portal carries details of other environmental programmes focusing on hazardous substances from across the world. Visitors to the site can literally play with all this information by means of interactive analytical tools, and they can display it and draw comparisons using various graphic outlets.

The data show, for instance, that levels of organochlorine insecticides are higher in monitored localities in central and eastern Europe than in Africa, where they are still used. “This is the very first time that data from all over the world have been brought together in one place, making possible such comparisons," Jana Klánová concludes.

The Brno scientists have the task this year of preparing an online system for the electronic collection of data during a second global campaign to be mounted in 2014, making data easier to process and for presentation on a specialist Internet portal.

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