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You are here: Home / Data and maps / Indicators / Persistent organic pollutant (POP) emissions / Persistent organic pollutant (POP) emissions (APE 006) - Assessment published Dec 2013

Persistent organic pollutant (POP) emissions (APE 006) - Assessment published Dec 2013

Indicator Assessment Created 05 Dec 2013 Published 20 Dec 2013 Last modified 20 Jan 2015, 03:41 PM

Indicator definition

  • The indicator tracks trends since 1990 in anthropogenic emissions of persistent organic pollutants. Emissions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are presently described, other POP compounds will be added in the future.
  • The indicator also provides information on emissions by sectors: 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, the 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)

Key policy question: What progress is being made in reducing emissions of persistent organic pollutants?

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.

Key assessment

In the EEA-33 region, emissions of PAHs have fallen by nearly two thirds since 1990. 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.

While the majority of individual countries report decreased PAH emissions since 1990, emissions in some countries have increased. One cause of these increased emissions has been due to the introduction of policy measures that have encouraged the burning of renewable materials such as wood to heat households. Wood-burning produces PAHs, and hence in this instance policies that have been implemented to address one environmental issue (climate change) have had an adverse impact on air quality. Whilst the absolute emissions of PAHs from countries showing substantial percentage increases are small compared to other countries, the effect on local population and environmental quality may nevertheless be notable.

There is a large contribution to the total EEA-33 PAH emissions from four countries in particular. Emissions from Germany, Poland, Romania and Spain sum to two thirds of the EEA-33 total emission of PAHs.

Hexachlorobenzene (HCB)

Emissions of HCB have fallen sharply in the EEA-33 since 1990, and now represent approximately 5% of the 1990 emission total. Nearly two thirds of the reduction comes from the UK contribution, where regulations were introduced to control the use of hexachloroethane (HCE) tablets as a degassing agent in secondary aluminium production.

Hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH)

In the EEA-33 countries, the HCH total emission has fallen by more than 95% since 1990. Current emissions are dominated by the UK, which contributes over 95% of the total. Emissions are reported as occurring in ‘Industrial Processes’.

Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCBs)

Emissions of PCBs in the EEA-33 have fallen to approximately a quarter of the emissions in 1990, due mainly to large reductions in emissions from the ‘Commercial, Institutional and Households’ sector in the Czech Republic and Poland. Within the EEA-33, Portugal reports a substantial rise in PCB emissions compared to 1990 levels (Malta and Spain report small increases).

Dioxins and Furans

Current emissions of dioxins and furans from the EEA-33 countries are approximately 15% of the emissions in 1990. Only Latvia reports an increase in emissions since 1990. The decrease in emissions from the EEA-33 countries is due to significantly reduced emissions from several sources. The 'Energy production and distribution' sector, 'Waste' and 'Commercial, institutional and households' make the largest contribution to current emissions (less than a half) with ‘Industrial Processes’, ‘Energy Use in Industry’ and ‘Waste’ all making contributions of approximately 15%.

Specific policy question: How do different sectors and processes contribute to emissions of persistent organic pollutants?

Contribution to total change in emissions of each persistent organic pollutant for each sector

Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Sector split of emissions of selected persistent organic pollutants

Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Specific assessment

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.

Data sources

Policy context and targets

Context description

Coupled with improved control and abatement techniques, targeted EC legislation (directives and regulations) has led to strong progress by EEA-32 countries in reducing air emissions of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that include the PAH group of chemicals. Such legislation includes:

  • The 1998 UN/ECE Aarhus Protocol on POPs (to the 1979 Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)) – ultimate objective 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 HBCD. Finally, the Protocol severely restricts the use of DDT, HCH (including lindane) and PCBs. The Protocol 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 below their levels in 1990 (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 manufacture, use, storage and emissions of POPs, as well as destroying existing stocks; provides for measures to reduce or eliminate emissions resulting from intentional and unintentional production and use; plans to meet the obligations; technical and financial assistance to developing countries and countries with economies in transition; 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 20th of 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 10 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 the 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 contain 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 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 levels in 1990 (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 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 are available from the EEA Data Service ( and the EMEP web site ( Where necessary, gaps in reported data are filled by ETC/ACC using simple interpolation techniques (see below). The final gap-filled data used in this indicator are available from the EEA Data Service (

Base data, reported in the UNECE/EMEP Nomenclature for Reporting (NFR) sector format are 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 & 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 total for 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 (eg 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 are not yet complete and are 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 for when 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 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.

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

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, Czechia, 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

Martin Adams


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