UK National implementation plan for the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants

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The UK Government today published a consultation paper on a draft National Implementation Plan for the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). The Plan outlines what the UK is doing to meet its obligations under the Convention. Views are also sought on the draft UK Persistent Organic Pollutant (POPs) Regulations 2007.

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants entered into force on 17 May 2004. It is a global treaty signed by 151 Countries with the objective to protect human health and the environment from a range of 12 chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants. Due to the extreme persistence of these substances in the environment, and their ability to be transported to areas far from their place of use, global action is needed to control them.

The 12 chemicals include ten pesticides, whose use in the UK has already been tightly controlled. It also includes unintentionally produced chemicals - dioxins and furans, which have never been manufactured for use but may be formed during combustion processes.

The National Implementation Plan contains a Dioxins Action Plan which outlines 13 activities to be taken forward by the UK to further reduce emissions.

The closing date for responses will be 19 March 2007.

POPs are a group of chemicals that are toxic, persist in the environment, bioaccumulate in fatty tissues and biomagnify through the food chain. In addition, POPs have the potential to be transported long distances and deposited far from their place of release including in pristine environments such as the Arctic and Antarctic and are therefore a transboundary global problem.

The ten pesticides and industrial chemicals listed in the Convention have all been banned in the UK for several years. Therefore we have no further obligation to control them other than if they enter the waste stream. In the UK they would all be classified as hazardous waste and controlled under relevant legislation.

The two remaining POPs (known collectively as dioxins) have never been produced intentionally but may be formed as a by-product during combustion or some industrial processes. Dioxins have a reputation for being one of the most toxic substances and are known to produce a wide range of adverse effects in animals, and are known to cause chloracne, a severe skin complaint in humans, and at least one form is carcinogenic.

The UK has already taken major steps to control dioxins and levels are now 70% less than 10 years ago - and continuing to decline. The National Implementation Plan contains a section on what further activities will be taken in the UK to maintain this downward trend.

The plan recommends 14 measures for future work (i) activities for Defra to fill knowledge gaps from some of the less well defined sources, (ii) activities for the Environment Agency to work with the metals industry to realise further emission reductions, and (iii) activities for the Food Standards Agency to continue to control dietary intakes.

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