Persistent organic pollutant (POP) emissions (APE 006) - Assessment published Dec 2013
- 20 Dec 2012 - Persistent organic pollutant (POP) emissions (APE 006) - Assessment published Dec 2012
- 21 Dec 2011 - Persistent organic pollutant (POP) emissions (APE 006) - Assessment published Dec 2011
- 15 Oct 2010 - Persistent organic pollutant (POP) emissions (APE 006) - Assessment published Oct 2010
- 15 Feb 2010 - EEA32 Persistent organic pollutant (POP) emissions (APE 006) - Assessment published Feb 2010
Air pollution (Primary topic)
Typology: Performance indicator (Type B - Does it matter?)
- APE 006
Key policy question: What progress is being made in reducing emissions of persistent organic pollutants?
- 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.
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).
Specific policy question: How do different sectors and processes contribute to emissions of persistent organic pollutants?
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.
National emissions reported to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP Convention)
provided by United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (Environment and Human Settlements Division, UNECE)
More information about this indicator
See this indicator specification for more details.
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoMartin Adams
EEA Management Plan2013 1.1.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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