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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.  In future, exposure to toxic chemicals in the polar regions may be further increased by global climate change, as those locked in the ice may be re-mobilised as melting occurs.

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 22 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 are actively working in this area, under the IPEN (International POPs Elimination Network) banner, and CHEM Trust is an active contributor in this group.

  • Update, August 2015: The EU is requesting that the persistent fluorinated chemical PFOA should be added to Annex A of the Stockholm Convention. This comes 6 years after a CHEM Tust/Heal/WWF briefing on PBTs highlighted the need for controls on PFOA. For more on PFOA – including its use in the packaging of microwave popcorn – see our blog on PFCs.
  • Update, October 2015: UNEP POPs experts have recommended that there should be further action on PFOA and Deca BDE.