Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are one of the Federal Environment Ministry's priority areas of work in chemicals. POPs include a number of plant protection products (such as DDT) and industrial chemicals (such as polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs) as well as dioxins and furans, unwanted highly toxic by-products of production and incineration processes.
POPs share several characteristics: they have a low level of degradability, accumulate in the food chain and have undesirable effects on human health and the environment. In addition, they spread globally via water or air, causing increasing pollution even in less industrialised and populated regions, such as the cold polar regions, where significantly higher concentrations of these chemicals have been found in environmental samples and food.
In May 2001, the international community agreed to ban POPs. In 2002, Germany was among the first countries to ratify the Stockholm Convention, which entered into force on 17 May 2004. The Convention has met with broad acceptance globally, as reflected by its ratification by 184 countries.
The list of substances regulated under the Stockholm Convention has been continuously expanded. After dicofol and PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) were added to the list at COP-9, it now comprises 30 chemicals.
The original 12 chemicals on the POP list
The original 12 chemicals on the POP list, the so-called "dirty dozen", were already banned from production and use or largely regulated in most industrialised countries – including Germany. The substances concerned were mainly used as plant protection products and biocides. Other substances such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were primarily used in electric transformers and as plasticisers in building materials. Whereas large PCB-containing electrical equipment has been disposed of, the decontamination of buildings is an ongoing task.
A vital factor in the Convention's success is whether its agreements are implemented in developing countries and how this is done. It is not surprising therefore that developing countries call for strong financial commitments and extensive technical support from the industrialised countries.
The POPs added over the last decade, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), listed as a POP in 2019, present a challenge for industrialised countries as well.
The biennial Conference of the Parties (COP) serves as the highest decision-making body of the Convention. The last COP was held in Geneva from 29 April to 10 May 2019 as part of the regular Conferences of the Parties to the Rotterdam, Stockholm and Basel Conventions (triple COPs).
The most important outcome was the listing of dicofol and PFOA.
The next COP of the Stockholm Convention is scheduled to be held in Nairobi from 17 to 28 May 2021, back to back with the COPs of the Basel and Rotterdam Conventions.