Persistent organic pollutant (POP) emissions (APE 006) - Assessment published Dec 2013
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 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.
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.
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?
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 Plan2014 1.1.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
- 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
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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