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Persistant Organic Pollutants (POPs)

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are chemicals 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 chemicals. The Baltic and the Alpine regions are examples of EU sinks of POPs. 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 chemicals. To that end, two international legally binding instruments have been 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 contain provisions for adding additional chemicals to 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,
  • Provisions on the safe handling of stockpiles,
  • 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 chemicals have been added to the POP Protocol in 2009 and to the Stockholm Convention several times since 2009.

Implementation measures

The European Union is strongly committed to the effective implementation of these two environmental agreements: they are transposed into Union law by Regulation (EU) 2019/1021 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on persistent organic pollutants. The Regulation is applicable to all Member States, including those that are not yet a party to the Convention.

The objective is to eliminate the production, placing on the market and use of chemicals, management of stockpiles and wastes and to lay down measures to reduce releases of unintentionally produced POPs. In some areas, the Regulation goes further than the international agreements emphasising the aim to eliminate the production and use of the internationally recognised POPs.

Furthermore, Member States must set up emission inventories for unintentionally produced POPs, national implementation plans (NIPs) and monitoring and information exchange mechanisms.

The annexes to the POPs Regulation are regularly amended to reflect developments under the Conventions, in particular the listing of new chemicals as POPs and the deletion of exemptions that were initially granted for certain chemicals but are no longer needed.

Monitoring of the implementation

The Stockholm Convention requires Parties to report on the measures taken to implement the Convention's provisions and on their effectiveness in meeting the Convention's objectives. This requirement is reflected in the POPs Regulation, which obliges Member States to report on the actual production and use of POPs, and on the implementation of other provisions of the Regulation. Based on the information from the Member States, the Commission establishes a synthesis report that describes the situation in the Union.

The report includes the key findings on the implementation of the Convention and the POPs Regulation. 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.

The third synthesis report covers the period 2010-2012 developed on the basis of information submitted by the Member States of the European Union and further supplemented by other existing information. The report is expected to be finalised in 2020.

The fourth synthesis report will cover the period 2013-2015 and is currently under development.

Union Implementation Plan

The Stockholm Convention obliges Parties to develop an Implementation Plan to show concrete actions and measures related to the elimination of the POPs listed in the Convention. The European Union, as a Party to the Convention, it is also required to develop this implementation plan(Article 9 of the POPs Regulation (EU) 2019/1021).

The goal of the Union Implementation Plan is not only to fulfil legal obligations, but to take stock of actions taken and to establish a strategy and action plan for further Union measures aiming at elimination or reduction of releases of POPs. The Union Implementation Plan reflects the Union's regulatory framework for POPs and PBT substances as well as the key challenges to achieve the goal to protect human health and the environment from exposure to POPs.

The Union Implementation Plan aims to:

  • review the existing Union level measures related to POPs;
  • assess their efficiency and sufficiency in meeting the obligations of the Stockholm Convention;
  • identify needs for further Union level measures;
  • establish a plan for implementing the further measures;
  • identify and strengthen links and potential synergies between POPs management, other environmental policies and other policy fields; and
  • increase awareness on POPs and their control measures.

Since the ratification of the Stockholm Convention in 2004, the Union developed its first 'Community Implementation Plan' in 2007. The plan was later updated with the 'Union Implementation Plan' in 2014 and further updated with a third 'Union Implementation Plan' in 2019.

A fourth implementation plan is underway to reflect developments both within the policy environment (i.e. further addition of new POPs to the Convention and the EU regulation) and the scientific and technological environment (i.e. where new research furthers the elimination of POPs).

Links, leaflet and videos

Useful links:

Leaflet:

  • The European Union and the Stockholm Convention Implementing Measures on Persistent Organic Pollutants en fr es

Question and answer document

Videos:

These videos were developed (in English) by Vienna high school students supported by Jane Goodall Institute Austria film team. For the content, the students were assisted by Austrian Federal Environment Ministry experts.