What are POPs?
POP is the acronym that identifies persistent organic pollutants, those organic substances that remain in the environment, accumulating in living organisms, such as plants or animals, also through the food chain.
POPs can be transported by air or water, or by migratory phenomena, reaching regions or nations where they have never been produced or used, or where their use is regulated or prohibited. For this reason, they represent a risk for health and for the whole environment, and already starting from the Stockholm Convention of 2001, in which 181 Countries from all over the world participated, it was considered necessary an international management of related risks, otherwise unmanageable locally.
Currently, chemicals identified as POPs include:
- pesticides (such as DDT)
- industrial chemicals (such as polychlorinated biphenyls, which have been widely used in electrical equipment, brominated flame retardants, SCCP chloroparaffins used as retardants or plasticizers or PFOS, a perfluorinated molecule)
- unintended by-products formed during industrial processes, degradation, or combustion (such as dioxins, furans, or PCB polychlorinated biphenyls).
Any member of the Stockholm Convention, including the EU, can propose a new persistent organic pollutant to be added to the annexes to the Convention, by submitting their proposals to the European Commission, at least as regards our area of interest. The POP Review Committee (POPRC), a body of experts provided for by the Stockholm Convention, then evaluates the proposals submitted and, based on certain control criteria, initiates a collection of information on a global scale to assess further dangers, risks, uses, and exposures. Finally, the review committee decides whether a global action on the substance is justified and makes an official recommendation on the inclusion of the substance in the list of the Convention.
What does the POP regulation provide?
The European Parliament and the Council have translated the commitments undertaken in 2001 into a single legislation, the so-called POPs Regulation, which is currently the (EU) Reg. 2019/1021, which has passed the historic Reg. (EC) No. 850/2004.
For some of these substances, there is already an absolute prohibition of production or use, for others there are limitations, if their residual content in the finished product is below a certain threshold, minimizing the emission into the environment of POPs consisting of industrial by-products, and finally ensuring the environmentally correct and safe disposal of waste consisting of or contaminated by POPs.
The role of ECHA
The European Chemicals Agency ECHA helps to identify and propose new POPs, collecting the information provided by EU member states, processes dossiers on industrial chemicals, verifying compliance with the legislation.
ECHA‘s attention is focused on the most dangerous substances, especially when more stringent risk management may be required to protect people and the environment.
In specific sectors, it takes its own decisions, while in other cases, it provides opinions and advice to the European Commission to promote new regulations.
What is the penalty for violating the POP regulation?
Unfortunately at present, unlike what is provided for the violation of the REACH regulation, which concerns not only POPs but all substances used in industrial processes or everyday use, for example cleaning products or paints, as well as those present in articles such as clothing, furniture, and household appliances, there is no decree in Italy providing for sanctions in the event of violations of the Regulation.