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POPs - Persistent Organic Pollutants

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are chemical substances that persist in the environment, bioaccumulate through the food web, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment. This group of priority pollutants consists of pesticides (such as DDT), industrial chemicals (such as polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs) and unintentional by-products of industrial processes (such as dioxins and furans).

Persistent Organic Pollutants are transported across international boundaries far from their sources, even to regions where they have never been used or produced. The ecosystems and indigenous people of the Arctic are particularly at risk because of the long-range environmental transportation and bio-magnification of these substances. Consequently, persistent organic pollutants pose a threat to the environment and to human health all over the globe.

International Action on POPs

The international community has called for actions to reduce and eliminate production, use and releases of these substances. To that end, two international legally binding instruments have been negotiated and concluded:

These instruments establish strict international regimes for initial lists of POPs (16 in the UNECE Protocol and 12 in the Stockholm Convention). Both instruments also contain provisions for including additional chemicals into these lists. They lay down the following control measures:

  • Prohibition or severe restriction of the production and use of intentionally produced POPs
  • Restrictions on export and import of the intentionally produced POPs (Stockholm Convention)
  • Provisions on the safe handling of stockpiles (Stockholm Convention)
  • Provisions on the environmentally sound disposal of wastes containing POPs
  • Provisions on the reduction of emissions of unintentionally produced POPs (e.g. dioxins and furans)
  • New substances added to the Stockholm Convention in May 2009 and to the POP Protocol in December 2009

Community ratification of the international agreements

The European Community has signed both international instruments on POPs, together with the then 15 Member States. The Community ratified the Protocol on 30 April 2004 and the Stockholm Convention on 16 November 2004.

Implementation measures

The Community is strongly committed to the effective implementation of these two environmental agreements. Regulation (EC) No 850/2004 of 29 April 2004 complements earlier Community legislation on POPs and aligns it with the provisions of the international agreements on POPs. To a certain extent the Regulation goes further than the international agreements emphasising the aim to eliminate the production and use of the internationally recognised POPs.

The Regulation contains provisions regarding production, placing on the market and use of chemicals, management of stockpiles and wastes, and measures to reduce unintentional releases of POPs. Furthermore, Member States must set up emission inventories for unintentionally produced POPs, national implementation plans (NIPs) and monitoring and information exchange mechanisms.

Article 12 of the Regulation requires annual reporting by Member States on the actual production and use of POPs, and triennial reporting on the implementation of other provisions of the Regulation ("Article 12 Reports"). The first synthesis report (Annex I - Annex II) for the period 2004-2006 and the second synthesis report, for the period 2007-2009, were completed in 2009 and 2011, respectively. Both of the reports were finalised by contractors on behalf of the Commission. These synthesis reports present the consultants' findings and do not constitute the view of the European Commission.

Amendment of the POP Regulation

On 26 August 2010, a number of amendments of the EU Regulation entered into force.  The amendments implement the international agreement reached at the 4th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Stockholm Convention in 2009, which also entered into force on the same date. The new dangerous chemicals added to the EU Regulation on POPs have already been subject to prohibition or severe restrictions in the EU. With the new amendments certain restrictions go further than previously was the case in order to comply with the new international commitments

The new chemicals listed are: 4 types of polybromodiphenyl ether (PBDEs), alpha hexachlorocyclohexane, beta hexachlorocyclohexane, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, its salts and perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride and pentachlorobenzene. The original POPs were mainly pesticides but certain of the new substances have been widely used in consumer products, such as perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) which is used for example in metal plating and fire fighting foams but also in stain repellents.

Links to the new legislation:

 

For further explanation, please see questions and answers.

Report of the "Study on waste related issues of newly listed POPs and candidate POPs".

European Community Implementation Plan

Each Party to the Stockholm Convention - individual states as well the European Community as a regional economic integration organisation - has to establish an Implementation Plan to show the concrete action that will be taken against the POPs listed in the Convention. The European Community Implementation Plan, which complements the national plans of the EU Member States, was adopted on 9 March 2007.

Community Implementation Plan for the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants SEC(2007) 341  (pdf ~530K)            

Information note on Regulation (EC) No 850/2004  en   (pdf ~100K)            

Identification of further POPs

Both international agreements on POPs include provisions for adding further substances that exhibit the characteristics of POPs to the technical Annexes. The Commission, together with the Member States, is promoting and supporting action to identify further POP candidates and initiate international action on their control.

The Commission Proposal for a COUNCIL DECISION concerning proposals, on behalf of the European Community and the Member States, for amendments to Annexes I - III of the 1998 Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants and to Annexes A - C of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants COM(2004) 537 final was adopted on 4 August 2004.

Press Release en

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