Regulation on Persistent Organic Pollutants entered into force;
By banning production and use of internationally recognised persistent organic pollutants (POPs), the EU has taken an important step to get rid of the world’s nastiest chemicals. The POPs, which accumulate in body fat and persist for generations, have been widely used in industry and as pesticides. Although most of the POPs have already been phased out in the EU, traces can be found in humans and animals all over the planet and may adversely affect their health. One of the substances that is still in use and that will now be banned is the pesticide lindane, which is used in some Member States in, for example, children’s shampoo to combat head lice. The Regulation on persistent organic pollutants, which entered into force on 20 May 2004, is directly applicable in all Member States. The Regulation complements the earlier EU legislation on POPs by aligning it with provisions of the Stockholm Convention and the UNECE Protocol on POPs, but goes a step further by limiting exemptions and by dealing with the stockpiles of redundant substances.
There are three types of persistent organic pollutants (POPs): pesticides (such as DDT), industrial chemicals (such as PCBs) and unintentional by-products of industrial processes (such as dioxins and furans). Most of these substances are known carcinogens or otherwise toxic. POP substances persist in the environment for decades, accumulate in living organisms and travel over borders, far from their sources.
The health and environment consequences of the careless way these substances have been used and disposed of are not yet fully understood, but it is known that some of them can cause cancer, problems with reproduction or are otherwise toxic.
The new Regulation on persistent organic pollutants aims to align the Community legislation with the requirements of the two international legally binding instruments on POPs, the Protocol to the regional UNECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) and the global Stockholm Convention. At the same time, it goes further than the international obligations by emphasising the aim to eliminate the production and use of the internationally recognised POPs. As both international agreements on POPs allow further substances to be listed, the Regulation also foresees amendment of the substance lists through a regulatory committee procedure.
As most of the listed the POPs are no longer in use, there are hardly any direct consequences of the Regulation on the chemicals industry and operators dealing with marketing of chemicals. However, new substances with POPs characteristics may be developed and introduced onto the market. Those should be identified through the legislation for new chemicals or for biocides and pesticides. Due to the lack of knowledge about existing substances, there may also be POPs-like substances on the market that have not yet been recognised. When the future EU chemicals policy REACH is in place, the management of all POPs-like chemicals will be improved and more POPs are likely to be identified through the registration requirement for existing substances. Under REACH, the internationally recognised POPs will continue to be banned; POPs-like substances will require authorisation or will be restricted.
Holders of POP waste and stockpiles will be more tightly controlled under the new POPs regulation. The same goes for industrial and other installations which can release dioxins, furans and other by-product POPs.
The Regulation bans production, placing on the market and use of the 13 intentionally produced POP substances. In the case of hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH)/lindane, Member States are allowed to grant a phase-out period for certain uses until the end of 2007. General exemptions concerning the listed substances are limited to a minimum. Member States can apply time-limited substance-specific exemptions only to existing equipment and other articles containing PCBs. There is also a possibility to exempt a specific use of DDT (as a closed-system site-limited intermediate in the production of dicofol).
All remaining stockpiles for which no use is permitted shall be managed as hazardous waste. Export of POP stockpiles has already been restricted under the PIC Regulation. Stockpiles greater than 50 kg meant for permitted uses (e.g. as a reference standard or for certain uses of lindane during the phase out period) shall be notified to the competent authority and managed in a safe, efficient and environmentally sound manner.
Control measures aimed at minimising releases of unintentional POPs rely on the existing Community legislation on, inter alia, pollution control of industrial installations (IPPC) and waste incineration. However, the Regulation obliges Member States to draw up and maintain comprehensive release inventories for dioxins, furans, PCBs and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and to communicate their national action plans on measures to minimise total releases of these substances. The action plan shall also include measures to promote the development of substitute or modified materials, products and processes to prevent the formation and releases of POPs.
Producers and holders of waste are obliged to undertake measures to avoid contamination of waste with POP substances. Otherwise the control measures on waste follow closely those of the Stockholm Convention: Recovery of POP substances is banned and the waste should be managed in a way that ensures the destruction or irreversible transformation of the POP content. By way of derogation and in case such waste management operations are not environmentally preferable, Member States may allow certain other operations, with stringent conditions, e.g. permanent storage of demolition waste contaminated with PCBs.