Twenty years ago, on 22 May 2001, over 120 countries from around the world came together at a Conference in Stockholm, Sweden, to adopt the Stockholm Convention, in order to protect human health and the environment from Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). POPs are extremely toxic chemicals that are sometimes called ‘forever chemicals’ as they remain in our bodies and the environment for decades and can disperse over thousands of miles on land, our atmosphere and oceans. Exposure to POPs has been proven to lead to serious health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease, and damages to the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Today, the Stockholm Convention with 184 Parties, is legally binding and enjoys almost universal coverage. Of these Parties, 173 have submitted National Implementation Plans, outlining concrete steps each government should take to phase out the use and production of POPs.
In addition to the original 12 POPs listed upon adoption - the so-called “Dirty Dozen” including DDT - a further 18 toxic chemicals or chemical groups have been listed, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is common in many household items such as furniture and non-stick cooking pans, totalling some 4,000 chemicals in all. PFOA, like many other POPs, is known to be linked to major health problems including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease and hypertension in pregnancy.
The Convention’s Global Monitoring Programme shows that for those initial 12 POPs, concentrations measured in air and in human populations have declined and continue to decline or remain at low levels, proving beyond any doubt that international legally binding treaties do work in addressing global environmental issues.
More chemicals are currently under review, including the plastic additive UV-328, a ubiquitous high-volume additive typically used as an ultra-violet (UV) stabiliser in plastic products such as some personal care products, rubber and coatings. Found in the environment and biota, including in remote areas such as the Arctic and the Pacific Ocean, far from its production and use, UV-328 has been found to be transported with, and may consequently be released from plastic waste dumped in the oceans, which is taken up, for example by seabirds with subsequent accumulation in their tissue, and also as microplastics. It is expected that possible future listing of this additive would strengthen the Stockholm Convention’s role as one of the key international treaties, alongside the Basel Convention, in tackling the growing plastic waste crisis.
In opening a celebratory series of short videos marking the anniversary entitled “Twenty Voices for Twenty Years”, Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the Stockholm Convention, said that “Today is a moment to acknowledge and take stock of what is possible when the global community comes together with the political will and resources to solve environmental problems. I’m proud of the achievements of the Stockholm Convention, and thank all Parties and observers, as well as the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as the financial mechanism, and the 16 regional centres around the world, for their contributions and commitments to strengthen the
Stockholm Convention in its ongoing work. In addressing the negative impacts of some of the most toxic chemicals produced worldwide, there remains an urgent need to tackle the global plastic waste pollution crisis, and the challenge of reversing the loss of our planet’s biodiversity, which undermines ecosystem functioning and ultimately life itself.”
Notes for Editors:
POPs and the Stockholm Convention
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, adopted in 2001 and entering into force in 2004, is a global treaty requiring its Parties to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment, to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and wildlife, and have harmful impacts on human health or on the environment. Exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) can lead to serious adverse health effects including certain cancers, birth defects, dysfunctional immune and reproductive systems, greater susceptibility to disease and damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems. Given that these chemicals can be transported over long distances, no one government acting alone can protect its citizens or its environment from POPs.
For more information on the Stockholm Convention, POPs, and POPRC: www.chm.pops.int