Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Persistent organic pollutants

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are chemical substances that do not break down in the environment. They can travel long distances and build up in the bodies of plants and animals. They are a danger to human health and the environment.

Equipment and machinery that may contain or emit PCBs, in metal production businesses and machinery businesses include:

  • electrical transformers
  • process heating equipment
  • high temperature hydraulic systems
  • high voltage equipment
  • fluorescent light ballasts
  • electric arc furnaces.

The use of POPs is banned in the UK.

What substances are persistent organic pollutants?

There are currently 16 substances classed as POPs but more may be added in the future.

POPs can be grouped into pesticides, industrial chemicals and POPs that are released accidentally from combustion and some industrial processes, such as burning material and fuels. Some POPs may belong to more than one group.

Pesticides

  • aldrin
  • chlordane
  • chlordecone
  • dieldrin
  • endrin
  • heptachlor
  • hexachlorobenzene (HCB)
  • hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH), including lindane
  • mirex
  • toxaphene
  • dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT)

Industrial chemicals

  • hexabromobiphenyl
  • HCB
  • polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

POPs produced as by-products from industrial and combustion processes

  • dioxins (polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDD) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDF))
  • HCB
  • PCBs
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

What you must do

You must not produce, market or use POPs.

There are some exceptions to the ban on POPs:

You can use substances or materials containing POPs:

  • for laboratory-scale research
  • as a reference standard, to calibrate scientific or analytical equipment
  • if the POP occurs as an unintentional trace contaminant.

GOV.UK: Using persistent organic pollutants

If you have any stores of POPs or POP-containing substances you must dispose of them correctly. If a material, waste or piece of equipment has a POP concentration at or above the thresholds stated in Annex IV of the POPs Regulation, you must dispose of it in accordance with Annex V, for example, by physico-chemical treatment or incineration.

You will also need to assess if the POP or POP-containing substance or equipment is classed as hazardous/special waste. This will place additional requirements on how you store, transport and dispose of it.

To find out how to assess and dispose of POPs contact your environmental regulator.

Contact your environmental regulator

POPs produced from industrial processes

You must avoid the unplanned release of POPs, for example, dioxins, HCB, PCBs and PAHs, from industrial activities and/or from burning material and fuels. These are the most common POPs in the environment.

Releasing POPs

POPs are only likely to be released from industrial activities that require a PPC permit. You must comply with the conditions in your permit, which will include requirements for controlling POPs releases.

Pollution prevention and control permits

Persistent Organic Pollutants in waste

If your waste has a POP concentration at or above the thresholds stated in Annex IV of the POPs Regulation, you must dispose of it safely and in accordance with Annex V, for example, by physico-chemical treatment or incineration.

If a waste contains any concentration of POPs it may be hazardous/special waste. This will place additional requirements on how you store, transport and dispose of it. You will need to assess the level of contaminants in your waste and dispose of it safely.

To find out how to assess and dispose of POPs contact your environmental regulator.

Contact your environmental regulator

Disposing and destroying waste that contains POPs

If you wish to dispose of or destroy waste that contains POPs other than by a method approved in Annex V of the POPs Regulation, you must obtain a derogation (permission to carry out an otherwise banned activity) from your environmental regulator. You will be charged a fee for any derogation application and you will have to meet certain strict conditions to get approval.

Contact your environmental regulator

Exemptions

Use of banned or restricted POPs

You must not produce, market or use POPs unless your use is allowed under Annex I or II of the POPs Regulation.

You must notify your environmental regulator if you have more than 50kg of POPs, or substances containing POPs, and your use is allowed.

Polychlorinated biphenyls in equipment

If you have any equipment containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) you will need to meet a number of other requirements.

See our PCB guidance for further information.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Further information on POPs

SEPA: Persistent Organic Pollutants

GOV.UK: Persistent organic pollutants

In Scotland you can search for specific information on POPs using the Scottish pollutant release inventory.

SEPA: Scottish pollutant release inventory

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