Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

06 Jun 2014

What are POPs?

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are hazardous chemical pollutants originating from pesticides, industrial chemicals, and byproducts of chemical processes.  They accumulate in body tissues of living organisms and are subject to long-range transport. POPs have adverse effects on humans and/or ecosystems. Under the 2001 Stockholm Convention on POPs, signed by more than 100 countries, an intital group of 12 POPs were identified after which many others were considered for a total of 23 POPs. Common examples of POPs include PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxin, and DDT. 

For example in China, DDT is added to marine anti-foul paint, to form a toxic layer over the painted area which can kill marine fouling organisms and thus achieve the desired effect. However, during usage these anti-fouls contaminate the water indiscriminately, damaging marine biodiversity, harming the marine food chain and threatening the marine ecological balance and human health. Annually, China consumes about 65,000 metric tons (MTs) of antifouling paint. China has 300,000 fishing vessels spread along its 18,000 kilometre coastline, which consume 10,000 MT of antifouling paint. Approximately half of this (i.e. 5,000 MT) is DDT based.

Why are POPs harmful? 

Because POPs can travel long distances via air currents, its effects go beyond its origin and source.  Furthermore, POPs can accumulate within organisms and food sources, including milk and cheese, and be passed from one organism to another; POPs can also cross the placenta and affect developing fetuses. Research has shown significant correlations between exposure to such toxic compounds and developmental dysfunctions in fetus and infants, learning and behavioral disorders, reproductive deficits, immune system dysfunctions and other diseases.  POPs inevitably threaten human health and ecosystems.

Global Collaboration against POPs

In order to fulfill China’s obligations under the Stockholm Convention and reduce the release of POPs, the Ministry of Environmental Protection of China and UNDP have jointly launched a series of projects. Accordingly, POPs have become a global concern.  In addition to the UNDP China campaign, NGOs associated with the Pesticide Action Network and NGO Greenpeace have become involved.  The World Wildlife Fund has also helped raise awareness in developing countries.  The six NGOs: Health Care Without Harm, International POPs Elimination Network, International Society of Doctors for the Environment, the Pesticide Action Network, Women in Europe for a Common Future and World Federation of Public Health Associations have joined in the global campaign against POPs. 

The campaign targets high-level policy makers, international community, private sector and the general public, in order to enlist their support for fighting against POPs. Through photo exhibitions, interviews, media events, analysis report, and public service announcements, UNDP and its partners hope to start a discussion around POPs. 

Through advocacy and government intiatives, in 2009 China banned the production, use, and trade of several POPs products, including DDT, mirex, and chlordane. Efforts to find products that replace POPs is ongoing with much more work to be done.

#StopthePOPs International Campaign

Celebrating 10 years of successful POPs project implementation in China and abroad, UNDP China with its government counterpart Foreign Economic Cooperation Office (FECO) Ministry of Environmental Protection is rolling out an international campaign against the 23 POPs. 

Work with Us 

The 23 POPs

AldrinDDTDieldrinEndrinChlordane HeptachlorHexachlorobenzene HCBMirexToxaphenePolychlorinated biphenyls PCBPolychlorinated dibenzopdioxin PCDDPolychlorinated dibenzofuran PCDFChlordeconeHexabromobiphenylHexabrominateddiphenyl ether, hexaBDE & heptabrominateddiphenyl ether, heptaBDEAlpha hexachlorocyclohexane α-HCHBeta hexachlorocyclohexane β-HCHLindane γ-HCHPentachlorobenzene PeCBTetrabromodiphenyl ether, tetraBDE & Pentabromodiphenyl ether, pentaBDEPerfluorooctanesulfonic PFOSEndosulfanHexabromocyclododecane HBCD
Towards a Chemical-Free Future

POPs Elimination in China