Q&As

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POPs

Scope

a) General

What will happen with substances already listed in REACH Annex XVII that will be listed in the POPs Regulation?

For further details, please see Q&A 1902

b. Presence of POPs as unintentional trace contaminants (UTC)

Why are there thresholds for unintentional trace contaminants in the POPs Regulation?
The Stockholm Convention and the POPs Regulation (cf. Article 4(1)(b)) generally exempt "substance[s] present as an unintentional trace contaminant in substances, mixtures or articles". The notion of “unintentional trace contaminant” comes from the Stockholm Convention, and is not applied in other pieces of EU chemicals legislation, which instead set fixed values below which a substance is not considered restricted. The POPs Regulation bridges the gap between the two approaches by defining a fixed threshold for substances occurring as an unintentional trace contaminant to facilitate uniform enforcement and control, and provide legal certainty to economic operators. The concrete threshold must be based on the specific properties of the restricted substance. The thresholds are an interpretation of the Stockholm Convention that fits into an EU law context.
Is it possible to manufacture, place on the market or use a substance not formulated intentionally with a substance listed in Annex I, but which contains traces of a POP substance above the unintentional trace contaminant threshold set in Annex I to the POPs Regulation?
The manufacturing, placing on the market and use of substances, whether on their own, in mixtures or in articles that contain POPs above the unintentional trace contaminant (UTC) threshold is prohibited, with the exemption of the specific purposes set in the entry for the substance in Annex I, or their use for laboratory-scale research or as a reference standard (Article 4(1)(a)).
Can a substance which is intentionally added to an article in a production process below the unintentional trace contaminant threshold set out by Annex I to the POPs Regulation be considered as an unintentional trace contaminant?

According to Article 3 of the POPs Regulation, the manufacturing, placing on the market and use of substances listed in Annex I, whether on their own, in mixtures or in articles is prohibited. Therefore, by definition, the use of a substance listed in Annex I, including its use for the formulation of a mixture or production of an article is prohibited, except when a specific exemption for the use has been added to the relevant entry in the Annex I, or their use for laboratory-scale research or as a reference standard (Article 4(1)(a)).   

The exemption set out under Article 4(1)(b) cannot apply to intentional uses of the substance, as indicated in the definition for “unintentional trace contaminant” in Article 2(12): “‘unintentional trace contaminant’ means a level of a substance that is incidentally present in a minimal amount, below which the substance cannot be meaningfully used, and above the detection limit of existing detection methods to enable control and enforcement”.

Not all substances listed in Annex I to the POPs Regulation have a maximum unintentional trace contaminant value defined in their corresponding entry. What is the maximum concentration that shall be considered as an unintentional trace contaminant for these substances for the purpose of the exemption defined in point (b) of Article 4(1)?

For those substances for which a maximum unintentional trace contaminant (UTC) value has not been defined in Annex I, the analytical limit of detection (LOD) shall apply; meaning that substances, mixtures, or articles containing these Annex I substances above the analytical LOD cannot benefit from the exemption defined in point (b) of Article 4(1).

c) Waste

Is the recycling of wastes containing POPs permitted under the POPs Regulation and the Stockholm Convention?
For waste with a low POP content, other options than destruction or irreversible transformation are allowed under Article 6.1 of the Stockholm Convention. This principle was kept in the POPs Regulation (Article 7(4)(a)) and applies to waste containing or contaminated by any substance listed in Annex IV. 
 
By contrast, and as regards POP substances listed in Annex IV (not waste containing them), Article 7(3) stipulates that disposal or recovery operations leading to recycling, recovery, reclamation or reuse on their own of the substances shall be prohibited. For example, in cases where a process leads to the separation of a substance listed in Annex IV from the rest of the waste, the POP substance has to be destroyed (or irreversibly transformed). Therefore, a distinction has to be made between the POP substance and wastes containing POPs:
 
  1. POP substances on their own have to be destroyed or irreversible transformed (Article 7(3)). 
  2. For waste containing POPs, Article 7(2) lays down a general rule, according to which the waste should be treated in such a way that the POP content is destroyed (or irreversibly transformed). However, by way of derogation from Article 7(2), Article 7(4)(a) stipulates that for waste with a low POP content (i.e. below the concentration limits set in Annex IV), other treatments - leading to the destruction of the POP content or not - are possible. This means e.g. that plastic waste containing POPs below the concentrations defined in Annex IV can potentially be disposed of via non-destructive methods (e.g. in a non-hazardous waste landfill) or be recycled (but the resulting recyclate would have in addition to meet the applicable UTC limit value in Annex I in order to be placed on the market). It has to be noted that Article 7(3) is also applicable: this means that operations aimed at recovering POP substances (contained in the waste) are explicitly forbidden. 
Can a POP substance be recycled if there is an exemption in Annex I that allows the manufacturing, placing on the market and use of that substance?
Operations aimed at recovering POP substances (contained in the waste) listed in Annex IV to the POPs Regulation are explicitly forbidden by Article 7(3), independently of whether an exemption exists under Annex I for the manufacturing, placing on the market and use of the substance.