Why do persistent organic pollutants matter?

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are a group of chemicals possessing the following characteristics:

  • they are highly toxic to humans and wildlife (harmfulness);
  • they can last for many years in the environment before degrading into less dangerous forms (persistence);
  • they bio-accumulate in the food chain (bio-accumulation);
  • they are transported over large distances through air and water and can be found worldwide (long-range transport).

They have been widely used in agricultural and industrial practices and unintentionally produced and released from many anthropogenic activities around the globe.

Specific health effects of POPs include cancer, allergies and hypersensitivity, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, reproductive disorders, and disruption of the immune system. Because of the threat they pose to human health and the environment, POPs are regulated under the Stockholm Convention that was adopted in 2001. Starting with 12 initial POPs, this treaty is a living process and new POPs have regularly been listed into its annexes. Presently, there are 26 POPs listed.

UNEP/DTIE Chemicals and Waste Branch supports Parties in the implementation of their obligations under the Stockholm and Basel Conventions and assists the MEA Secretariats with technical and scientific expertise.

Further Resources

To learn more about POPs: