Statutory regime on persistent organic pollutants
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs for short) are organic substances with certain properties that can be harmful to humans and the environment. They are regulated at EU level by the POP Regulation as well as worldwide by the Stockholm Convention. The aim is clear: production, marketing, ans use of POPs should be banned or at least restricted.
What are POP?
Persistent organic pollutants are organic compounds that are characterised by the fact that they
- remain in the environment for a long time (persistence),
- accumulate via the food chain (bioaccumulation),
- may harm human health and the environment ((bio-)toxicity)
- have the ability to be transported in the environtment over long distances.
Due to this latter property, the ability to disperse widely in the environment, POPs can be detected in remote regions such as Antarctica, even though neither production nor use of the substances has taken place in that region. The transport can take place by water, air or also by migratory species. Therefore, not only regional but also global risk management is necessary.
In addition to various industrial chemicals (e.g. polychlorinated biphenyls or perfluorooctanoic acid) and pesticides (e.g. DDT) that are or were produced for commercial purposes, POPs also include unintentional by-products from industrial production, degradation or combustion processes (e.g. dioxins and furans).
Agreements at the international level - Stockholm Convention and CLRTAP
There are two international agreements regulating the handling POPs:
- the Stockholm Convention
- the Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
You can find more information about the conventions on the respective websites.
Statutory regime at European level - Regulation (EU) 2019/1021 (POP Regulation)
At European level, the two aforementioned international agreements are transposed into European law by "Regulation (EU) 2019/1021 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on persistent organic pollutants" (POP Regulation).
Due to the legal form "regulation", the provisions contained therein are directly applicable in all Member States without the need for further implementation.This way, it is ensured that the obligations and measures resulting from the international conventions are regulated and implemented uniformly across the EU.
Regulatory areas of the POP Regulation
The provisions of the POP Regulation apply to substances included in its Annexes I and II. Annex I contains the list of prohibited substances; Annex II contains the list of substances that are subject to restrictions.
Article 3 of the POP Regulation prohibits the production, placing on the market and use of substances listed in Annex I. These prohibitions also include mixtures or articles containing such substances.
Stockpiles consisting of or containing substances listed in Annex I or II are also regulated (Article 5 POP Regulation). These provisions also apply to mixtures and articles.
- Provided no specific use is permitted for stockpiles, they are managed as waste.
The persistent organic pollutants they consist of, contain or are contaminated with must be destroyed or irreversibly transformed. Recycling, recovery, reclamation or reuse of corresponding substances is prohibited. In the area of waste management, the POP Regulation goes beyond the requirements of the international agreements.
- Where the use is permitted as an exemption, the owner must inform the enforcement authority responsible for the company of his EU Member State annually about the nature and size of stockpiles of more than 50 kg.
Competent Authority in Germany and the EU
The Federal Office for Chemicals (BfC) which is based at the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin, BAuA) fulfils the duties of the "Competent Authority" (CA) according to the POP Regulation. These include receiving and forwarding information both from the European to the national level and vice versa. This also includes, for example, the fulfilment of reporting obligations according to Article 13 of the POP Regulation.
The federal states are responsible for monitoring the implementation of the POP Regulation. If you have stockpiles of a POP - either as a substance, in a mixture or in an article - of more than 50 kg, the use of which is permitted as an exemption, you must inform the enforcement authority responsible for your company annually about the nature and size of the stockpiles. You can find the relevant enforcement authority for your company in the EU Commission's Information and Communication System for Europe-wide market surveillance (ICSMS).
The Federal Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt, UBA) also works intensively in the context of POP regulation. For example, UBA acts as the national focal point for the Stockholm Convention, maintains emission inventories of unintentionally released POPs and carries out various (research) activities in the field of POPs.
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), which assists the European Commission in its tasks, provides information on its website on the nomination and inclusion process of potential POPs in the Stockholm Convention, on the current status of nominated substances in the process, and on the possibility to participate through public consultations.