Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


POPs or Persistent Organic Pollutants, are a subset of pollutants. POPs are identified by their characteristics, which include: low water solubility; stability; lipid solubility; volatility; and high molecular mass. POPS also tend to resist environmental degradation, that is, breaking down in the environment, and persist over time as they are resistant to chemical, biological and photolytic processing. Because POPS are stable, they tend to persist in the environment for long periods of time once introduced into ecosystems. Because POPs are lipid soluble (stored in fat) and are slowly metabolized, they tend to bioaccumulate.

The above chemical characteristics of POPS make them a special concern in environmental protection. Numerous legal statutes endeavor to restrict the emission of POPs.

POPs are typically found in pesticides, industrial solvents and in some pharmaceuticals. While some POPs appear in nature, the majority of POPs found in the environment have been introduced by human activities.

POPs are health concerns because they act as hormone disruptors. Hormone disruptors are chemical that interfere with the hormonal system or the endocrine system, and change alter the development of mammals. Hormone disruptors are associated with learning disabilities, the development of cancer, cardiovascular disease, birth defects, attention deficit disorders and neurological impairment, and interfere with sexual development. Because of their development effects, exposure to POPs is of greatest concern with respect to fetal exposure.

With respect to international law and agreements, POPs have been specifically addressed by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (Stockholm Convention Link). The Stockholm Convention specifically placed a requirement on developed nations to address global POP pollution. To do so, developed nations are required to fund efforts to eliminate the production and use of intentionally and unintentionally produced POPs, and seek to dispose of POP in an environmentally sound manner.

A list of POPs identified in the Stockholm Convention can be found HERE.

Further Reading

Carpenter, David O., (ed.) (2013). Effects of Persistent and Bioactive Organic Pollutants on Human Health. Wiley.

Qing Li, Qing, Annamalai Loganath, Yap Seng Chong, Jing Tan, and Jeffrey Philip Obbard. (2006). “Persistent organic pollutants and adverse health effects in humans.” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A 69, 21: 1987-2005.


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