Persistent organic pollutants – a new family of substances for ECHA

Have you ever heard of Silent spring? This environmental science book written by Rachel Carson in the 1960s called on people to question which chemicals their governments allow into the environment. For the last two decades, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been in the spotlight due to increased global efforts to minimise the risks they pose to the environment and health. So how are POPs regulated and what will ECHA’s future role with them be?

POPs are chemical substances that remain in the environment, bioaccumulate through the food chain, and pose a risk to the environment and human health. Due to their intrinsic properties, these substances can also be transported across long distances, far from the locations where they have been produced or used. 

They therefore have a high potential to contaminate, with samples found in our everyday environment but also even in the most remote places on the planet, like the Arctic. Once released, it is difficult to reduce their presence in the environment and humans. The impact on ecology and society is long-lasting and can even span across generations.

How are POPs currently regulated?

The chemical substances that have been identified as POPs include:

  • pesticides (such as DDT); 
  • industrial chemicals (such as polychlorinated biphenyls, which were widely used in electrical equipment); or
  • unintentional by-products formed during industrial processes, degradation or combustion (such as dioxins and furans). 



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