Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are chemical substances that do not break down in the environment. They can travel long distances and build up in the bodies of plants and animals. They are a danger to human health and the environment.
The use of POPs is being phased out and some are already banned in the UK. Measures are also in place to help reduce their unplanned release from facilities covered by the pollution prevention and control (PPC) regime.
Substances classed as POPs
A chemical substance becomes listed as a POP when it is shown to be a particular risk to the environment and human health. More substances may be added in the future.
POPs can be grouped into pesticides, industrial chemicals and unwanted by-products - substances that are released accidentally from combustion and some industrial processes such as burning material and fuels. Some POPs may belong to more than one group.
|Pesticides||aldrin, chlordane, chlordecone, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene (HCB), hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCH) including lindane, mirex, toxaphene, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), pentachlorobenzene (PeCB)|
|Industrial chemicals||hexabromobiphenyl, HCB, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), tetra-, penta-, hexa- and hepta-polybrominated diphenylethers, hexabromodiphenyl, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid and its derivatives (PFOS), PeCB|
|By-products||dioxins (polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDD)), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDF), HCB, PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), PeCB, alpha- and beta- HCH|
You must not produce, market or use POPs unless your use is allowed under Annex I or II of the European Union (EU) POPs Regulation. There are general exemptions if:
- you only use a substance classed as a POP for research and development
- POPs are in a substance, preparation or article as an unintentional trace contaminant
You must notify the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) if you have more than 50 kilograms of POPs, or substances containing POPs, allowed by an exemption.
If you have any stores of POPs, or substances or articles (including equipment) containing POPs, and the material is not covered by an exemption, it is classed as waste and you must dispose of them correctly as soon as possible.
Avoid releasing POPs from industrial processes
You must avoid the unplanned release of POPs such as dioxins, HCB, PCBs and PAHs from industrial activities, or from burning material and fuels. These are the most common POPs in the environment.
POPs are only likely to be released from industrial activities that require a PPC permit. You must comply with the conditions in your permit, which will include requirements for controlling POP releases.
Deal with waste containing POPs correctly
If a material, waste or piece of equipment has a POP concentration at or above the thresholds stated in Annex IV of the EU POPs Regulation, you must dispose of it in accordance with Annex V so the POP content is destroyed or permanently changed, for example by high temperature incineration.
If a material, waste or piece of equipment contains any concentration of POPs, it may be hazardous waste. This will place additional requirements on how you store, transport and dispose of it. You will need to assess the level of contaminants in your waste and dispose of it safely - see dealing with hazardous waste.
In most cases it is illegal to export POPs.
Apply for permission to dispose of certain wastes containing POPs
If you wish to dispose of waste that contains POPs by permanent secure storage you must obtain a derogation (permission to carry out an otherwise banned activity) from the NIEA. This only applies to certain waste streams, for example wastes from thermal processes. You will be charged a fee for any derogation application and you will have to meet certain strict conditions to get approval.
PCBs in equipment
PCBs are classed as POPs. If you have any equipment containing PCBs you will need to meet a number of other requirements - see polychlorinated biphenyl responsibilities for chemical manufacturers.