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Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

Some chemicals are not only persistent and able to bioaccumulate in living organisms including humans, but are also able to travel long distances in air or ocean currents. These are called persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and are extremely nasty chemicals.

Because POPs are so detrimental to health and the environment there are two international conventions which seek to control them. The first is the UNECE POPs Protocol (1998), which focuses only on those which are transported via air currents. The second, is a global Treaty, called the UNEP Stockholm Convention (2001) on POPs, often called the POPs Convention. This covers POPs which can travel long distances by air or water.

The Arctic and Antarctic are particularly at risk from these POPs, because air and ocean currents can carry the harmful chemicals to the polar regions where they become concentrated.  There is also evidence that exposure to toxic chemicals in the polar regions may be further increased by climate change, with chemicals locked in the ice being re-mobilised as melting occurs.

Adding new chemicals to the POPs list

CHEM Trust has been involved in lobbying for additional chemicals, beyond the original twelve, to be subject to global bans under the UNEP POPs Convention. Currently there are 28 chemicals covered by the POPs convention, but more still need to be added. We recognise the importance of this work, bearing in mind the need to protect all wildlife and people from harmful chemicals, and the potential for such contaminants to be found in imported foods and other articles.

A group of NGOs from all over the world is actively working in this area under the banner of the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN). CHEM Trust is a member of this group.

One significant success has been the recommendation, in September 2018, by the POPs Review Committee (POPRC) to list PFOA in Annex A of the Stockholm Convention for global elimination. This chemical has been used in the packaging of microwave popcorn, and was highlighted by us in 2009 in a CHEM Tust/Heal/WWF briefing on PBTs.

Recycling of POPs

POPs used in products also pose a particular challenge in the context of the circular economy. For instance, brominated flame retardants (BFRs) have been found in plastic toys made of recycled plastic derived from electronic waste (see IPEN report Toxic Loophole).

Limits for BFRs in recycled products have been under discussion in the EU, and in November 2018 CHEM Trust co-signed, with 21 other environmental and consumer organisations, a joint letter calling for stricter controls in line with the EU’s obligations under the Stockholm Convention.

For more information about chemicals and the circular economy, see our page and our briefing on the circular economy and chemicals.

Other CHEM Trust contributions include:

  • April 2019: Ahead of the ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm POPs Convention (COP-9) in Geneva, Switzerland on 29 April to 10 May 2019, CHEM Trust sent a letter to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, asking for action to reduce global pollution from Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
  • September 2018: CHEM Trust has joined 13 UK charities in a call for action from the UK Government in the Environment Act and at the Stockholm Convention in May 2019 to help prevent further polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) toxic chemical waste entering our oceans and killing our mammals. See our comments here.
  • September 2018: CHEM Trust co-signed a letter addressed to the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker: “NGO Response to the EU Proposal for Short-chain Chlorinated Paraffins (SCCPs) Waste Limits under the Basel and Stockholm Conventions”.
  • August 2018: CHEM Trust signed the “Zürich Statement on Future Actions on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)”outlining a set of needs, goals, and actions to cooperatively work toward a more efficient and effective assessment and management of PFASs.
  • April 2018: CHEM Trust responded to Ökopol’s survey on specific PFASs (C4-C7) and other fluorinated substances (precursors or similar substances) to develop a restriction proposal under REACH.
  • October 2017: CHEM Trust signed a joint NGO letter calling for the EU to avoid conflicts of interest in the production of a report on PFOA for discussion in the Stockholm POPs convention process.
  • September 2016: We signed a joint NGO letter to EU Member State representatives asking them to strengthen proposed restrictions on PFOA and related substances. Press release from IPEN here.
  • September 2015: CHEM Trust joined with a large number of NGOs to write to EU Environment Commissioner Vella to protest about the EU’s position on recycling of materials containing decaBDE within the UNEP POPs discussions.