Eliminating persistent organic pollutants


Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are a global problem that requires a global solution. POPs endanger the environment, the health of wildlife, affect biodiversity, and threaten the health, behaviour and intelligence of the next generation. The new scientific evidence of the long term effects of these chemicals, causing learning and behaviour disorders in children, affecting their immune systems and reproductive ability, require immediate and effective action is taken at the international level not simply to reduce the production and use of these chemicals, but to completely eliminate their production and use.


POPs are chemicals that last for decades in the environment, and travel thousands of miles in the air and water. They are linked to cancer, birth defects and reproductive and developmental problems in both humans and wildlife.

Persistent organic pollutants" (POPs) are organic substances that: (i) possess toxic characteristics; (ii) are persistent; (iii) bioaccumulate; (iv) are prone to long-range transboundary atmospheric transport and deposition; and (v) are likely to cause significant adverse human health or environmental effects near to and distant from their sources. Levels of these pollutants are particularly high in Arctic human and wildlife populations. POPs include hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), hexachlorobenzene (HCB), dichloro-diphenyl-dichloroethane (DDE) and dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), benzo(a)pyrene (B(a)P), dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans.


The global treaty on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) will, for the first time in history, eliminate or severely restrict the use and production of a whole range of man-made chemicals that are directly toxic to humans. The POPs Treaty was signed in Stockholm on 22-23 May 2001. Ratification by at least 50 countries is required before the treaty enters into force, a process likely to take 3-4 years. The convention targets 12 POPs: hexachlorobenzene (listed in two forms: as a fungicide and as an industrial chemical), endrin, mirex, toxaphene, chlordane, heptachlor, DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, furans. It calls for the elimination of eight of them, while adopting severe restrictions on DDT, and creating a "roadmap" toward elimination of PCBs and the two unintentional byproducts, dioxins and furans. As part of the commitment to precaution, negotiators agreed that the precautionary principle would be included in the treaty objective statement, and also embedded in the section for adding new POPs to the convention. For the time-being, negotiators agreed to use the Global Environment Facility as the "interim" mechanism to channel the funding, pending a further review of the matter once the treaty is in force and operational.

In the USA, the the production of chlordane by industries and registration of the pesticide with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for all above-ground uses had stopped by 1983. In 1978, the USA EPA stopped all above-ground uses of chlordane (mainly on food crops). All sale and commercial use of chlordane was stopped in 1988. In 1998 the US company that produced chlordane and heptachlor for export announced that it would cease production of these chemicals. Even though the US had banned chlordane for use a decade ago, it was still exported in large quantities for export, and is present at high levels in the Arctic.

In 1999 Russia agreed to stop producing PCBs in the context of the Long-Range Treaty on Air Pollution Agreement.


It has been 75 years since the chemical revolution began. The POPs treaty provides a strong foundation for eliminating some of the world's most toxic chemicals.


Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy