Developed in the first half of the 20th century, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been regulated or banned as widespread public concern over their toxicological effects for human health and the environment has increased. Research has shown that exposure to POPs can lead to serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease and damages to the central and peripheral nervous systems.
20 January will mark an important step in international efforts to address emissions of POPs to the atmosphere with the entry into force of amendments to the 1998 Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants, adopted in 2009, in 23 countries in Europe and North America: Austria, Canada, Croatia, Cypris, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Further Parties to the original Protocol are expected to accept the amendments in the coming months. According to the Air Convention’s Scientific Assessment Report, POP emissions in the EMEP region decreased by 40% (PAHs) to 85% (polychlorinated biphenyls, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB); and hexachlorobenzene, HCB) since 1990.
The amended Protocol, negotiated under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (Air Convention), further steps up Parties’ efforts to regulate or get rid of POPs in the region by broadening the Protocol’s scope to include new substances: hexachlorobutadiene, octabromodiphenyl ether, pentachlorobenzene, pentabromodiphenyl ether, perfluorooctane sulfonates. The amendments now in force also upgrade the protocol’s obligations for eliminating the production and use of DDT, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and for fixing emission limit values from waste incineration. Parallel to this, and with a view to facilitating the Protocol’s ratification by countries with economies in transition in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, flexibilities for these countries regarding the time frames for the application of emission limit values and best available techniques. These flexibilities now also enter into force.
The Protocol on POPs, which was signed in 1998 and entered into force in 2003, constituted the first international action to eliminate or curtail POPs. It has been a pioneer in the international fight against POPs and has served as a model for regulating POPs both at the European and global levels, including under the Stockholm Convention on POPs.
UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova stated: “The Air Convention, with 40 years of successful cooperation to tackle air pollution, remains the only regional policy solution of its kind anywhere in the world. Stepped-up efforts by Parties, such as under the Protocol on POPs, are the right signal in addressing air pollution in the region.”
Chair of the Executive Body of the Air Convention, Anna Engleryd, stressed that “the entry into force of the amended Protocol on POPs shows the importance of concerted action and cooperation among countries. No one country alone can solve the problem of air pollution.”
Note to editors
About the Air Convention
The UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution was adopted in 1979. Over the years, it has been extended by eight protocols that identify specific measures to be taken by Parties to cut their emissions of air pollutants. The Convention has 51 Parties, covering North America and almost the entire European continent.
The 1998 Aarhus Protocol on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) to the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution entered into force in October 2003. Over the years the list of POPs covered by the protocol has been gradually extended to 16 substances: aldrin, chlordane, chlordecone, dieldrin, endrin, hexabromobiphenyl, mirex, toxaphene; DDT, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, PCBs, HCH including lindane, dioxins/furans, PAHs, hexachlorobenzene. The amendments entering into force on 20 January add 5 substances to the list: hexachlorobutadiene, octabromodiphenyl ether, pentachlorobenzene, pentabromodiphenyl ether, perfluorooctane sulfonates. Amendments to add two more substances, polychlorinated naphthalenes, short-chain chlorinated paraffins, still need to be ratified.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are particularly harmful chemical substances (pesticides, industrial chemicals and by-products or contaminants) which pose a serious threat to the environment and to human health, not only in the UNECE region, but all over the globe. POPs are not just toxic: unlike other pollutants, they resist degradation, remaining in the environment for generations and accumulating in the bodies of humans and animals. They are transported over long distances, including to the Arctic, where they threaten sensitive ecosystems and indigenous peoples. Humans are exposed to POPs through the food they eat and through the environment, including the indoor environments in which we live and work. Health hazards from POPs include endocrine disruption, reproductive and immune dysfunction, neurobehavioural and developmental disorders, and cancer. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of manmade chemicals. They are oily liquids or solids, clear to yellow in color, with no smell or taste. PCBs are very stable mixtures that are resistant to extreme temperature and pressure. PCBs were used widely in electrical equipment like capacitors and transformers.