Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants

In recent decades, the use of chemicals and the importance of the chemical industry have increased significantly worldwide. As a result, more and more toxic substances, including so-called persistent organic pollutants (POPs), are being released into the environment, posing a potential threat to human health and the environment around the planet.

POPs are organic substances that have toxic properties; persist for a long time in the environment; accumulate in the biosphere; have the capability for long-range transboundary atmospheric transport and deposition; and are likely to cause significant adverse effects on human health or the environment near and far from their sources.

This dangerous combination of toxicity, resilience, mobility and long-range transport means that POPs are literally prevalent around the globe, even in ecosystems and local communities in mountainous regions, the Arctic, Antarctica and the remote Pacific Islands. Their ability to accumulate in the adipose tissue of living organisms, known as "bioaccumulation", means that POPs are gradually bioconcentrated through the food chain in fish, birds of prey and mammals, and ultimately in humans.

Pregnant women are at a particular risk of biological accumulation of POPs in breast milk and fetus and are passed on to future generations.

Exposure to POPs can cause serious health problems such as certain cancers, birth defects, functional disorders of the immune and reproductive systems, higher susceptibility to disease and even reduced intelligence.

Aware of the concerns for human health and the environment and the need to take global action against the effects of POPs, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants was adopted at the Plenipotentiary Conference on 22 May 2001 in Stockholm, Sweden. It was signed by 92 countries and by the European Community (EC) as a regional organization on 23 May 2001. The Convention remained open for signature from 24 May 2001 until 22 May 2002, when it was signed by 151 States.

The Convention shall enter into force on 17 May 2004, ninety (90) days after the deposit of the 50th instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

The Stockholm Convention was signed by Bulgaria on 23 May 2001 and was ratified by law by the National Assembly on 30 September 2004 (promulgated in SG № 89/12.10.2004). Bulgaria has been a Party to the Convention since March 20, 2005. As of January 1, 2011, a total of 172 countries, including 25 EU Member States, have ratified the Convention.

The strategic goal of the Stockholm Convention is to protect human health and the environment from POPs.

The Stockholm Convention sets itself 5 important priorities:

Objective № 1: Elimination of dangerous POPs, starting with the 22 POPs included in the Convention;
Objective № 2: Facilitate the transition to the use of safer alternative substances;
Objective № 3: Identification of additional POPs requiring action;
Objective № 4: Disposal of accumulated obsolete pesticides and equipment containing POPs;
Objective № 5: To unite efforts to achieve a future without POPs.

This international agreement requires global action on the 22 substances currently included as POPs, grouped into three categories: 15 pesticides, 7 industrial chemicals and 4 by-products formed and released unintentionally from anthropogenic sources, with some POPs being both pesticides and industrial chemicals. The initial 12 POPs included a total of ten new POPs, nine and one substance, respectively, at the fourth and fifth meetings of the Conference of the Parties in May 2009 (COP4) and in April 2011 (COP5).

Imports of the 20 deliberately produced POPs are banned or severely restricted by the Stockholm Convention. After the expiry of the specific exemptions, imports and exports are only allowed for the purpose of environmentally sound disposal.