Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)
The Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) forms a framework, based on the precautionary principle, which seeks to guarantee the safe elimination of these substances, which are harmful to human health and the environment, as well as reductions in their production and use. The Convention covers 12 priority POPs, although the eventual long-term objective is to cover other substances.
Council Decision 2006/507/EC of 14 October 2004 concerning the conclusion, on behalf of the European Community, of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
The Convention seeks to ensure the limitation of pollution by persistent organic pollutants (POPs). It defines the substances in question, while leaving open the possibility of adding new ones, and also defines the rules governing the production, importing and exporting of those substances.
Persistent organic pollutants are chemical substances that possess certain toxic properties and, unlike other pollutants, resist degradation, which makes them particularly harmful for human health and the environment. POPs accumulate in living organisms, are transported by air, water and migratory species and accumulate in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
They are therefore a cross-border problem on which international action is indispensable.
The Convention covers 12 priority POPs produced intentionally or unintentionally. These substances are formed unintentionally by a wide variety of sources, from residential combustion systems to waste incinerators.
These 12 priority POPs are aldrin, chlordane, dichlorodiphenyltrichlorethane (DDT), dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene, polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs), hexachlorobenzene, dioxins and furanes.
Initially the Convention aims at prohibiting production and use of nine POPs and minimising production and use of a tenth substance. In the case of the last two POPs, the objective is to minimise their unintentional production and release into the environment. The rules laid down in the Convention do not apply to quantities of a chemical to be used for laboratory-scale research.
Three bodies have been set up to implement the Convention at international level:
- The Conference of the Parties: This is the principal body, consisting of all the Parties to the Convention plus, where appropriate, observers. It lays down the rules on the implementing procedures and is responsible for major decisions, such as addition of a new substance to the Convention and approval of exemptions.
- The Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee: This committee, made up of specialists, examines proposals to add new substances to the Convention.
- The Secretariat: This body is responsible principally for administrative tasks.
Import/export of POPs
The Convention provides for ending imports and exports of banned POPs. However, chemicals classified as POPs may be imported under certain circumstances:
- for environmentally sound disposal of existing POPs (destruction of waste, etc.);
- if an exemption has been granted authorising production and use of the substances in question.
Exports are authorised:
- for environmentally sound disposal of existing POPs (destruction of waste, etc.);
- to a party granted an exemption from the Convention to use the substance in question;
- to States which have not signed the Convention.
In the latter case, the importing State must provide annual certification to the exporting Party specifying, inter alia, the intended use of the chemical and including a commitment from the importing State to protect human health and the environment by minimising or preventing releases and to take waste management measures, including action to ensure irreversible elimination of the substance classified as a POP.
Unintentional production of POPs
The goal is to minimise and, where feasible, eliminate unintentional production and release of POPs. To this end, the Parties to the Convention are required to develop a national, regional or subregional action plan. This must form part of the overall plan for implementing the Convention. The plan must include an evaluation of releases, an evaluation of the efficacy of the existing laws and policies on management of such releases and strategies for meeting the objectives of the Convention.
The development and use of modified or substitute materials, product and processes must be encouraged in order to avoid unintentional production of POPs. The Convention includes general guidelines on best available techniques and best environmental practices for preventing or minimising releases. It also provides for measures to reduce or eliminate releases containing POPs from stockpiles and wastes.
The Convention allows certain exemptions from the provisions on elimination or minimisation of production or use of these substances and, consequently, from the rules on imports and exports. Such exemptions are specific to each POP and are defined, case by case, in the Annexes to the Convention.
The exemptions are entered in a register open to the public and are valid for five years. They may be extended by the Conference of the Parties, based on a report submitted to the Conference by the Party concerned justifying the continuing need for the exemption. However, when there are no longer any Parties registered for a particular type of exemption, no new registrations will be accepted for that exemption.
Implementation by the Parties
The Parties must develop a plan for fulfilling their obligations under the Convention and transmit it to the Conference. To make it easier to exchange information, each Party must designate a national focal point. Since POPs are a cross-border issue, the Parties are encouraged to cooperate at various levels, including regional or subregional, in order to facilitate the preparation, application and updating of their plans.
It is also important to monitor POP trends in the environment and their effects on public health and to encourage research and development.
Addition of new substances
At the request of any Party, the Review Committee examines all proposals to add new POPs to those already listed under the Convention. Such requests must be accompanied by the specified information stating the reasons for the proposal. This includes proof of persistence, bioaccumulation, potential for spreading and of the adverse effects on human health and the environment. Where it is decided that a proposal meets the selection criteria, the Committee re-examines the proposal, taking account of any relevant additional information received, and draws up a draft description of the risks, and if required, a risk management assessment. On the basis of these assessments, the Committee recommends that the Conference of the Parties should or should not consider including the chemical in annexes A, B and/or C. The final decision is taken by the Conference of the Parties.
Financial resources and technical assistance
Each Party contributes to the financial resources for implementation of the Convention, notably via measures and activities at national or regional level forming part of implementation plans. Developing countries and countries with economies in transition could have financial and technical difficulties with application of the Convention. Developed countries should make their contribution via a mechanism set up by the Convention to attempt to resolve this problem by providing extra financial resources. Another possible form of aid for developing countries and economies in transition is the technological support provided by the developed countries.
Rules on information
Members of the public, politicians and the chemical industry must be kept informed and made aware of the risks posed by POPs and of the rules on the subject. Measures such as appropriate training for the individuals concerned are envisaged. Effective communication between the Parties is also essential, principally via the Secretariat for the Convention.
Settlement of disputes
Disputes between Parties over interpretation or application of the Convention are either settled by arbitration or referred to the International Court of Justice. The plaintiff may choose the procedure. However, if the plaintiff is a regional or economic integration organisation it must follow the arbitration procedure alone.
Failure to comply
The Convention will have a mechanism for identifying non-compliance with the Convention and procedures for dealing with such cases.
Parties may withdraw from the Convention three years after it enters into force. A minimum period of one year from the receipt of the withdrawal notification must elapse before such withdrawals can take effect.
The Convention was adopted by 150 Governments, including those of the Member States of the European Union, and also by the Council, acting on behalf of the European Union, at a conference held in Stockholm from 22 to 23 May 2001.
The Convention entered into force on 17 May 2004.
The Stockholm Convention follows a series of measures taken at international level. In June 1998 the European Community signed the Aarhus Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants to the Geneva Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE)). The Protocol currently covers 16 POPs, 12 of which come under this Convention.
This measure also fits into the broader context of the numerous international treaties and conventions concluded on the environment in recent years, such as the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development for example.
|Act||Entry into force||Deadline for transposition in the Member States||Official Journal|
|Council Decision 2006/507/EC||14.10.2004||–||OJ L 209 of 31.07.2006|
Council Decision of 24 April 2006 concerning proposals, on behalf of the European Community and the Member States, for amendments to Annexes I to III of the 1998 Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants and to Annexes A to C of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants [Not published in the Official Journal].
In the light of recent scientific information and the new studies available, this decision seeks to include within the scope of the Stockholm Convention the four substances that are listed in the Protocol but which up to now were not covered by the Convention (pentabromodiphenyl ether, chlordecone, hexabromobiphenyl and hexachlorocyclohexane). It is also planned to include the following substances in the Convention and in the 1998 Protocol:
- octabromodiphenyl ether;
- polychlorinated naphthalenes;
- short-chain chlorinated paraffins.
Regulation (EC) No 850/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on persistent organic pollutants and amending Directive 79/117/EEC [OJ L 158 of 30.4.2004].
Council Regulation (EC) No 1195/2006 [Official Journal L 217 of 8.8.2006];
Council Regulation (EC) No 172/2007 [Official Journal L 55 of 23.2.2007];
Commission Regulation (EC) No 323/2007 [Official Journal L 85 of 27.3.2007].
This 2004 Regulation seeks to supplement the EU’s already substantial legislation on the substances on the lists and shows a willingness to go beyond international obligations, especially in the field of chemical substances and waste management.
The Regulation specifically concerns the production, placing on the market, use, discharge and elimination of substances which are banned or restricted under the Stockholm Convention on POPs, or the UN-ECE Protocol on POPs. It seeks to establish, at Community level, requirements for effective implementation of these two international agreements. It also seeks to prevent any legislative inconsistencies between Community and national texts and to encourage more consistent practical application. This approach should also contribute to the efficient functioning of the internal market. This Regulation has been amended several times in order to update the list of substances involved.
Council Decision 2004/259/EC of 19 February 2004 concerning the conclusion, on behalf of the European Community, of the 1988 Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants [OJ L 81 of 19.03.2004].
This Decision approves the 1998 Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
This United Nations-Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE) Protocol was signed by the EU and its Member States in June 1998. It relates to the same 12 POPs as the Stockholm Convention and to four other additional substances (pentabromodiphenyl ether, chlordecone, hexabromobiphenyl and hexachlorocyclohexane). These POPs have significant adverse effects on health or the environment as a result of their persistence, their bioaccumulation and their long-range transboundary atmospheric transport.
The Protocol’s ultimate aim is to eliminate discharges, emissions and leaks of POPs. The Protocol categorically prohibits the production and use of certain products (aldrin, chlordane, chlordecone, dieldrin, endrin, hexabromobiphenyl, mirex and toxaphene). It provides for the elimination of other products at a later stage (DDT, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene and polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs)).
Lastly, it strictly limits the use of DDT, HCH (including lindane) and PCBs. The Protocol contains provisions concerning waste from products which will be prohibited. It also requires the Parties to reduce their annual emissions of dioxins, furanes, PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and HBC in comparison with 1990 levels. It sets specific limit values for the incineration of urban waste, hazardous waste and medical waste.
Protecting health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants
Regulation (EU) 2019/1021 on persistent organic pollutants
It aims to protect human health and the environment by eliminating, or restricting the production and use of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) as defined in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants or the Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
It seeks to minimise, or eliminate where possible, releases of such substances, and regulate waste containing or contaminated by them. The regulation particularly takes into account the precautionary principle.
POPs are potentially dangerous chemical substances which may cross international boundaries, are found often far from their emission sources, persist in the environment, bioaccumulate*, and consequently pose a threat to human health and the environment.
Controls on manufacture, placing on the market, and use
The production and placing on the market of POPs listed in Annex I, whether on their own, in mixtures or in an article*, is banned. The production, placing on the market and use of POPs listed in Annex II is restricted to uses where locally safe, effective and affordable alternatives are not available to the country in question.
EU countries and the European Commission must apply appropriate controls to existing substances (such as through listing) and prevent the production, placing on the market and use of any new substances which exhibit characteristics of POPs.
EU countries may forward suggestions for listing to the Commission which, supported by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), decides whether to propose additional substances for listing. The ECHA also has a general advisory and informational role in the processes described in the regulation.
Exemptions from these controls are allowed for substances used for laboratory-scale research or as a reference standard, or which are present as an unintentional trace contaminant in mixtures or articles.
Other exemptions apply to articles containing POPs manufactured prior to the regulation taking effect, subject to specific assurances and conditions, including requirements for notification to the Commission and the Stockholm Convention Secretariat.
Release reduction, minimisation and elimination
EU countries must:
keep inventories of substances listed in Annex III released into air, water and land;
communicate their action plans on measures to identify, characterise and minimise the release of substances, including the use of substitute or modified substances;
give priority to alternative processes which avoid the formation and release of POPs when constructing or modifying facilities.
Those who produce or hold waste must avoid the waste being contaminated, as far as possible, with substances listed in Annex IV.
In most cases, contaminated waste must be disposed of or recovered* quickly to ensure that the POP content is destroyed or transformed.
EU countries must ensure that the production, collection and transportation of contaminated waste, as well as its storage and treatment, are traceable and carried out in conditions providing protection for the environment and human health.
Planning, monitoring and reporting
EU countries must give the public the opportunity to participate in this process and their implementation plans must be publicly available and shared with the Commission and the ECHA, including information on measures taken at national level to identify and assess sites contaminated by POPs, as appropriate. The Commission must also maintain an implementation plan which is to be reviewed and updated as appropriate.
A monitoring mechanism must be established to gather comparable monitoring data on the presence of substances as listed in Part A of Annex III of the regulation in the environment. EU countries will also report on the implementation of the regulation.
The Commission is empowered to adopt delegated acts to amend the list of substances in Annexes I, II and III of this regulation to adapt them to changes to the list of substances set out in the annexes to the Stockholm Convention or the 1979 Protocol.
The regulation repeals and recasts Regulation (EC) No 850/2004.
Application & Background
It has applied since 15 July 2019.
For more information, see:
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) (European Commission).
Bioaccumulate: become concentrated inside the bodies of living things.
Placing on the market: supplying or making available, either in return for payment or free of charge, to a third party. Importing is also considered as ‘placing on the market’.
Article: an object which during production is given a special shape, surface or design which determines its function to a greater degree than does its chemical composition.
Waste recovery: defined in the Waste Framework Directive as any operation the principal result of which is waste serving a useful purpose by replacing other materials which would otherwise have been used to fulfil a particular function, or waste being prepared to fulfil that function, in the plant or in the wider economy.
Regulation (EU) 2019/1021 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on persistent organic pollutants (recast) (OJ L 169, 25.6.2019, pp. 45-77)
Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives (OJ L 312, 22.11.2008, pp. 3-30)
Successive amendments to Directive 2008/98/EC have been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.
Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), establishing a European Chemicals Agency, amending Directive 1999/45/EC and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 793/93 and Commission Regulation (EC) No 1488/94 as well as Council Directive 76/769/EEC and Commission Directives 91/155/EEC, 93/67/EEC, 93/105/EC and 2000/21/EC (OJ L 396, 30.12.2006, pp. 1-849). Text republished in corrigendum (OJ L 136, 29.5.2007, pp. 3-280)
See consolidated version.
Communication from the Commission on the precautionary principle (COM(2000) 1 final, 2.2.2000)
Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants (OJ L 81, 19.3.2004 pp. 37-71)