POPs, by definition, are able to persist in the environment for long periods of time. A number of situations enable these persistent compounds to be transported across international borders (e.g. via water courses, air currents or through food chains). Because of this, many nations and international organisations have recognised the significance of a unified global approach to the control and management of POPs.
The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) is one example of an important multilateral environmental agreement (MEA). The SAICM steering committee consists of large international organisations, including the World Bank, the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety, the United Nations Development Programme and the InterOrganisational Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC). This level of international cooperation highlights the importance which the global community is placing on the control of hazardous chemicals (including POPs). Such MEAs aim to protect both developing and developed nations from the negative impacts posed by hazardous chemicals so that current and future generations can sustain a high quality of life.
A variety of international instruments have been developed which target the approaches used for the production, use, release and disposal of POPs. The following sections describe some of the most significant of these instruments that provide a viable legal framework for dealing with POPs.
The European Union (EU) develops legal policy and legislation which in turn becomes implemented in EU Member States. EU and national legislation relating to POPs extends into a variety of sectors, including waste management, chemicals controls, atmospheric pollution, water protection, food and feed safety and specific POPs legislation derived from international conventions and agreements.
The EU Council has developed a range of Directives, which help to control the production, transportation, use and disposal of POPs. The environmental legislation in the EU is well developed, and therefore the implementation of international conventions within the EU and its Member States is a simpler task than that faced by many developing regions/nations with less established environmental policies.
In order to ensure a coherent and effective implementation of the CLRTAP Protocol on POPs and the Stockholm Convention on POPs, the EU Council and European Parliament adopted a Regulation on Persistent Organic Pollutants (2004/850/EC) on 29 April 2004. The main objectives of this Regulation are given in the following points:
- The production and use of HCH (including Lindane) should be confined to a minimum and ultimately phased out by 2007.
- Stockpiles of prohibited substances should be treated as waste. In particular, this shall apply as soon as possible
- Releases of unintentional byproducts of industrial processes should be identified and reduced as soon as possible with the ultimate aim of elimination. Appropriate national implementation should be drawn up and implemented.
- Programmes and mechanisms shall be established to provide adequate monitoring data on the presence of PCDD/PCDF and
PCBs in the environment under economically and technically viable conditions.
- Common concentration limits for POP substances and substance groups shall be established before 31 December 2005.
Most of the listed POP substances have already been phased out of use in the EU. Therefore, the Regulation holds few consequences on the chemicals industry and other markets for POPs. However, there remains the potential for new and previously unclassified chemicals to enter into EU jurisdiction. A new chemicals framework for the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) entered into force in the EU on 1 June 2007. Under this legislation, the management of hazardous chemicals (including POPs) have been tightened, and new POPs chemicals are likely to be identified through a registration process for new and existing substances. The REACH proposal places greater responsibility on industry for gathering information on their substances and managing the associated risks. A EU Chemicals Agency has been established to run the chemicals databases and coordinate the evaluation of suspicious chemicals.
These new EU Regulations provide Member States with a framework with which they can develop their own national POPs legislation. The legal instruments that concern the control of hazardous chemicals have evolved in unique ways for each of the Member States. It is the responsibility of individual Member States to complement or replace their existing legislation with the requirements of EU policy.