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Persistent organic pollutant emissions

Indicator Assessmentexpired Created 05 Dec 2013 Published 20 Dec 2013 Last modified 04 Sep 2015, 06:59 PM
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Indicator codes: APE 006

Key messages

  • EEA-33 emissions of a number of compounds categorised as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have decreased between 1990 and 2011, including hexachlorobenzene (HCB) by 96%, hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) by 95%, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) by 73%, dioxins & furans by 84%, and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) by 58%. While the majority of individual countries report that POP emissions have fallen during this period, a number report that increases in emissions of one or more pollutants have occurred.
  • In 2011, the most significant sources of emissions for these POPs included the sectors 'Commercial, institutional and households' (61% for PAHs, 19% of HCB, 39% of dioxins and furans, 15% of PCB emissions) and 'Industrial processes' (43% of HCB, 75% of HCH, 38% of PCB emissions).
  • Important emission sources of PAH include residential combustion processes (open fires, coal and wood burning for heating purposes etc.), industrial metal production processes, and the road transport sector. Emissions from these sources have all declined since 1990 as a result of decreased residential use of coal, improvements in abatement technologies for metal refining and smelting, and stricter regulations on emissions from the road transport sector.
  • Environmental context: Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are chemical substances that persist in the environment, have potential for biomagnification through the food web, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment. This group of substances includes unintentional by-products of industrial processes (such as PAHs, dioxins and furans) pesticides (such as DDT) and industrial chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). All share the property of being progressively accumulated higher up the food chain, such that bioaccumulation in lower organisms to relatively low concentrations can expose higher consumer organisms,  including humans, to potentially harmful concentrations. In humans they are also of concern for human health because of their toxicity, their potential to cause cancer and their ability to cause harmful effects at low concentrations. Their relative toxic/carcinogenic potencies are compound specific, but in general the major concerns are centred on their possible role in causing cancer, neurobehavioral, immunological and reproductive disorders. More recently concern has also been expressed over their possible harmful effects on human development.

What progress is being made in reducing emissions of persistent organic pollutants?

Change in hexachlorobenzene emissions

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Change in hexachlorocyclohexane emissions

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Change in polychlorinated biphenyl emissions

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Change in dioxin and furan emissions

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Change in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons emissions

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In the EEA-33 region, emissions of PAHs have fallen by 58% between 1990 and 2011 (Figure 1). A combination of targeted legislation, details of which are set out in the 'Indicator specification - policy context' section, coupled with improved controls and abatement techniques has led in general to significant progress being made in most countries to reduce PAH emissions (Figure 6).

While the majority of individual countries report decreased PAH emissions since 1990, there are five countries (Denmark, Iceland, Estonia, Italy and Liechtenstein) in which emissions have increased by 10% or more. Of these countries, emissions in Denmark and Iceland have risen by more than 50% since 1990, although in both cases emissions have been falling since 2007. One cause of these increased emissions has been due to the introduction of policy measures that have encouraged the burning of renewable materials (e.g. wood by Danish households). Wood-burning produces emissions of PAHs, and hence in this instance policies that have been implemented to address one environmental issue (climate change) have had unintended consequences in terms of air pollution. In absolute terms, emissions of PAHs from both countries are relatively low compared to other countries, but the effect on local population and environmental quality may nevertheless be notable. Of the EEA-33 group of countries, the most PAH emissions are reported by Spain and Germany, where emissions are more than 12 times greater than in Denmark.

Emissions of HCB have fallen sharply in the EEA-33 since 1990, mostly due to a drop in HCB emissions in the United Kingdom of 4.3 tonnes between 1998 and 1999, accounting for 98% of the EEA-33 emissions decrease in 1999 (Figure 2). This large decrease was due to the introduction of regulations in the UK to control the use of hexachloroethane (HCE) tablets as a degassing agent in secondary aluminium production. 63% of the reduction across all EEA-33 countries since 1990 is due to the fall in HCB emissions in the United Kingdom, from 61% of EEA-33 emissions in 1990, to just 11% in 2011.

HCH emissions in EEA-33 countries have fallen overall by 95% from 1990 to 2011 (Figure 1); only Belgium has reported increases in emissions (Figure 3). Of the overall decrease in emissions, 47% may be accounted for by decreased emissions from the 'Agriculture' sector, 32% from 'Industrial processes', and 22% from 'Solvent and product use'. In 2011, 23% of emissions of HCH were from 'Agriculture' sources (Figure 7).

Emissions of PCBs in the EEA-33 have fallen by 73% between 1990 and 2011, due mainly to reductions in 'Industrial processes' emissions, which accounted for 68% of the decrease over this period (Figure 7). Within the EEA-33, the only countries in which PCB emissions have risen from 1990 levels are Portugal and Malta (Figure 4). 21 countries reported lower emissions in 2011 than 1990, and the remaining 10 countries either did not report data, or reported zero emissions for 1990.

EEA-33 countries' reported emissions of dioxins & furans show a decrease of 84% by 2011 when compared with 1990 levels. Of the 31 countries which reported non-zero emissions, only Bulgaria, Latvia and Liechtenstein reported an increase in emissions from 1990 to 2011 (Figure 5). The overall decrease in emissions across all EEA-33 countries was due to significantly reduced emissions from the 'Energy production and distribution' sector (30% of overall decrease), 'Waste' (22%) and 'Commercial, institutional and households' (21%) (Figure 7). In 2011, 39% of dioxin and furan emissions were from sources in the 'Commercial, institutional and households' sector, 18.9% from 'Energy use in industry' and 15.2% from 'Waste' (Figure 8).

How do different sectors and processes contribute to emissions of persistent organic pollutants?

Contribution to total change in emissions of persistent organic pollutants per sector

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Share of emissions of selected persistent organic pollutants by sector

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Important emission sources of POPs typically include residential combustion processes (open fires, coal and wood burning for heating purposes etc.), industrial metal production processes, and the road transport sector (Figure 8).

Emissions from each of these sources have in general declined since 1990 as a result of decreased residential use of coal, improvements in abatement technologies for metal refining and smelting, and stricter regulations on emissions from the road transport sector (Figure 4). In particular, the majority of the PAH emission reduction observed in Europe since 1990 has been due to reduced emissions from within the industrial processes sector (Figure 7). This reflects various initiatives designed to reduce the formation and emission of (unintended) POPs through improved process design, control and pollution abatement technology.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

  • This indicator tracks trends since 1990 in anthropogenic emissions of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Emissions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are currently described, while other POP compounds will be added in the future.
  • The indicator also provides information on emissions by sector: Energy production and distribution; Energy use in industry; Industrial processes; Road transport; Non-road transport; Commercial, institutional and households; Solvent and product use; Agriculture; Waste; Other.
  • Geographical coverage: EEA-32. The EEA-32 country grouping includes countries of the EU-27 (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom), EFTA-4 (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Norway) and Turkey.
  • Temporal coverage: 1990-2010


Tonne (metric ton)

Policy context and targets

Context description

Targeted EC legislation (directives and regulations), coupled with improved control and abatement techniques, have led to strong progress by the EEA-32 countries in reducing air emissions of POPs, including the PAH group of chemicals. Such legislation includes:

  • The 1998 UNECE Aarhus Protocol on POPs (to the 1979 Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)). The ultimate objective of this protocal is to eliminate any discharges, emissions and losses of POPs. The original Protocol bans the production and use of some products outright (aldrin, chlordane, chlordecone, dieldrin, endrin, hexabromobiphenyl, mirex and toxaphene), with others scheduled for elimination at a later stage (DDT, heptachlor, hexaclorobenzene, PCBs). In 2009, the protocol was updated to list commercial Pentabromodiphenyl (Penta-BDE) and commercial Octabromodiphenyl (Octa-BDE) as POP substances, whilst the POPs task force concluded that hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) met the criteria to be considered as a POP, and potential risk management options are therefore currently being considered for it. Finally, the protocol severely restricts the use of DDT, HCH (including lindane) and PCBs, and includes provisions for dealing with the wastes of products that will be banned. It also obliges parties to reduce their emissions of dioxins, furans, PAHs and HCB to below their 1990 levels (or an alternative year between 1985 and 1995). For the incineration of municipal, hazardous and medical waste, it lays down specific limit values.
  • The 2001 UNEP Stockholm Convention on POPs aims to reduce and ultimately cease the manufacture, use, storage and emission of POPs, as well as to destroy existing stocks. It provides for measures to reduce or eliminate emissions resulting from intentional and unintentional production and use. It also plans to meet the obligations on technical and financial assistance to developing countries and countries with economies in transition, and to cooperate and exchange information. 12 POPs were covered under the original scope of the Convention:
    • Pesticides: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene;
    • Industrial chemicals: hexachlorobenzene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); and
    • By-products: hexachlorobenzene; polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDD/PCDF), and PCBs.


  • In May 2009, nine additional chemicals were added to the Convention:
    • Pesticides: chlordecone, alpha hexachlorocyclohexane, beta hexachlorocyclohexane, lindane, pentachlorobenzene;
    • Industrial chemicals: hexabromobiphenyl, hexabromodiphenyl ether and heptabromodiphenyl ether, pentachlorobenzene, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, its salts and perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride, tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether; and
    • By-products: alpha hexachlorocyclohexane, beta hexachlorocyclohexane and pentachlorobenzene
  • Regulation (EC) No. 850/2004 on Persistent Organic Pollutants entered into force on the 20 May 2004. The main purpose of this Regulation is to enable the European Community to ratify the Stockholm Convention and the Aarhus Protocol. The Regulation also deals with stockpiles of redundant substances.

  • EC Communication on a Community Strategy for Dioxins, Furans and PCBs (COM (2001) 593 final) – aims to assess current state of the environment and to reduce human exposure and long term environmental effects. The Communication does not propose legislative measures, but could be the basis for a Community action plan;

  • The Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (2008/1/EC) (replaces 96/61/EC) – aims to prevent or minimise pollution of water, air and soil by industrial effluent and other waste from industrial installations, including energy industries, by defining basic obligations for operating licences or permits and by introducing targets, or benchmarks, for energy efficiency. It also requires the application of Best Available Techniques (BAT) in new installations from now on (and for existing plants over the next ten years according to national legislation) to reduce emissions of heavy metals and POPs. Emissions of these substances are required to be estimated under the terms of the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) (166/2006/EC);

  • The CAFE Directive on Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air for Europe (2008/50/EC) has repealed and replaced Directive 96/62/EC on Ambient Air Quality Assessment and Management and three of its daughter directives 99/30/EC, 2000/69/EC, 2002/3/EC). Its fourth daughter directive (2004/107/EC), still remains as it contains provisions and limit values for the further control of heavy metals and PAH in ambient air;

  • Directive 2000/76/EC on the Incineration of Waste contains limits on emissions of dioxins and furans from waste incineration processes. It also provides for Member States to set limits on emissions of PAHs from waste incineration processes. During 2007, the Commission carried out a review of this Directive. It is proposed that the Waste Incineration Directive should be incorporated into a revised IPPC Directive, but this is unlikely to occur before 2013;

  • The Directive on the Limitation of Emissions of Certain Pollutants into the Air from Large Combustion Plants (2001/80/EC) – has had the effect of reducing heavy metal and PAH emissions via dust control and absorption;

  • There are also a number of specific EU environmental quality standards and emission standards for heavy metals and POPs for these substances in coastal and inland waters, drinking waters etc. These have only indirect relevance to air emissions as they do not directly specify emission or precipitation quality requirements, but rather specify the required quality of receiving waters. Such measures include Hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) Discharges (84/491/EEC); Dangerous Substances Directives (76/464/EC) and (86/280/EC); Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC).


As noted above, the POPs protocol to the UNECE LRTAP Convention obliges parties to reduce their emissions of dioxins, furans, PAHs and HCB below their 1990 levels (or an alternative year between 1985 and 1995 inclusive).

Related policy documents


Methodology for indicator calculation

This indicator is based on officially reported national total and sectoral emissions to the EEA and UNECE/EMEP (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe/Co-operative programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long-range transmission of air pollutants in Europe) Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP Convention), submission 2011. For the EU-27 Member States, the data used is consistent with the emissions data reported by the EU in its annual submission to the LRTAP Convention.

Recommended methodologies for emission inventory estimation are compiled in the EMEP/EEA Air Pollutant Emission Inventory Guidebook, (EMEP/EEA, 2009). Base data is available from the EEA Data Service ( and the EMEP web site ( Where necessary, gaps in reported data are filled by the European Topic Centre for Air and Climate Change using simple interpolation techniques (see below). The final gap-filled data used in this indicator is available from the EEA Data Service (

Base data, reported in the UNECE/EMEP Nomenclature for Reporting (NFR) sector format, is aggregated into the following EEA sector codes to obtain a consistent reporting format across all countries and pollutants:

  • Energy production and distribution: emissions from public heat and electricity generation, oil refining, production of solid fuels, extraction and distribution of solid fossil fuels and geothermal energy;
  • Energy use in industry: emissions from combustion processes used in the manufacturing industry including boilers, gas turbines and stationary engines;
  • Industrial processes: emissions derived from non-combustion related processes such as the production of minerals, chemicals and metal production;
  • Road transport: light and heavy duty vehicles, passenger cars and motorcycles;
  • Non-road transport: railways, domestic shipping, certain aircraft movements, and non-road mobile machinery used in agriculture and forestry;
  • Commercial, institutional and households: emissions principally occurring from fuel combustion in the services and household sectors;
  • Solvent and product use: non-combustion related emissions mainly in the services and households sectors including activities such as paint application, dry-cleaning and other use of solvents;
  • Agriculture: manure management, fertiliser application, field-burning of agricultural wastes;
  • Waste: incineration, waste-water management;
  • Other: emissions included in national totals for the entire territory not allocated to any other sector


The following table shows the conversion of Nomenclature for Reporting (NFR) sector codes used for reporting by countries into EEA sector codes:

EEA classification

Non-GHGs (NFR)


National totals

National total


Energy production and distribution

1A1, 1A3e, 1B


Energy use in industry



Road Transport



Non-road transport (non-road mobile machinery)

1A3 (excl. 1A3b)


Industrial processes



Solvent and product use









Commercial, institutional and households

1A4ai, 1A4aii, 1A4bi, 1A4bii, 1A4ci, 1A4cii, 1A5a, 1A5b





Methodology for gap filling

An improved gap filling methodology was implemented in 2010 that enables a complete time series trend for the main air pollutants (NOX, SOX, NMVOC, NH3 and CO) to be compiled. In cases where countries did not report emissions for any year, it meant that gap-filling could not be applied. For these pollutants, therefore, the aggregated data is not yet complete and is likely to underestimate true emissions. Further methodological details of the gap filling procedure are provided in section 1.4.2 Data gaps and gap-filling of the European Union emission inventory report 1990–2009 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP).

Methodology references


Methodology uncertainty

The use of gap filling in instances where countries have not reported emissions for one of more years can potentially lead to artificial trends, but it is considered unavoidable if a comprehensive and comparable set of emissions data for European countries is required for policy analysis purposes.

Emissions of 'total PAH' reported by Poland for 2004 and 2005 were around a thousand times higher than expected. For the purposes of this assessment these data have therefore been adjusted by a factor of 10-3 to correct for this unit error.

Data sets uncertainty

Uncertainties in the emission estimates of PAHs reported by countries are considered to be higher than for other more 'traditional' air pollutants such as NOX and SO2 due to the relatively higher uncertainties that exist in both activity data and emission factors for this group of pollutants. Emission estimates for the other POPs are also considered to be of high uncertainty. 

Rationale uncertainty

This indicator is regularly updated by the EEA and is used in state of the environment assessments. The uncertainties related to methodology and data sets are therefore of importance. Any uncertainties involved in the calculation and in the data sets need to be accurately communicated in the assessment, to prevent erroneous messages influencing policy actions or processes.

Data sources

Generic metadata


Air pollution Air pollution (Primary topic)

Chemicals Chemicals

Industry Industry

pops | furans | air pollution | polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons | hcb | pcb | dioxins | air pollution indicators | air emissions | pah | hch | persistent organic pollutants | dioxins and furans | pollution
DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Performance indicator (Type B - Does it matter?)
Indicator codes
  • APE 006
Temporal coverage:
Geographic coverage:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Anke Luekewille


EEA Management Plan

2014 1.1.2 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100