on POPs in waste still up in the air
ENDs Europe - June
The council of ministers could
decide next week on new EU-wide safety levels for persistent organic
pollutants (POPs) in waste. Agreement would mark the final step in
the EU's implementation of the UN Stockholm convention on POPs.
Under an EU regulation adopted
to implement the convention in 2004 all waste containing any of fourteen
different pollutants above certain concentrations must be "destroyed
or irreversibly transformed". This must be done by physico-chemical
treatment or incineration (EED 07/05/04 http://www.endseuropedaily.com/16814).
The job of defining threshold
concentrations was deferred to a separate technical decision-making
process that should have concluded by December. Its failure to reach
agreement means that the responsibility has now returned to the political
sphere. If necessary, ministers themselves might have to decide.
The European commission re-tabled
its proposals at the end of last month. It proposes values of 50 milligrams
per kilogram (mg/kg) for all POPs except dioxins and furans, for which
it proposes 15 micrograms per kilogram (ug/kg). These are at the higher
end of a range suggested by consultants last year (EED
08/09/05 http://www.endseuropedaily.com/19362). Several member
states want stricter thresholds.
Various industries will be affected
by the decision, including the metals, and biomass and coal-using
power sectors. A separate part of the POPs regulation allows the power
and metals industries to escape the "destroy or irreversibly
transform" obligation by putting waste in "permanent storage"
in deep underground rock formations, salt mines or, if the waste is
solidified or stabilised first, in hazardous waste landfill sites.
But this option will be open only
if operators can prove it will be better for the environment, that
decontamination is not feasible, and that POPs concentrations do not
exceed certain limits.
These limits have also yet to
be decided and are set out in a parallel commission document. It proposes
limits of 5,000 mg/kg for all POPs except dioxins and furans (5 mg/kg)
and PCBs (50 mg/kg). All waste above these limits would have to be
destroyed or irreversibly transformed, without exception.
A separate plan to require solidification
before treatment of all waste containing dioxins and furans above
1 ug/kg but below the 15 ug/kg concentration threshold has been put
off until the values have been agreed.
The 14 POPs concerned are: aldrin,
chlordane, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex,
toxaphene, PCBs, DDT, chordecone, dioxins/furans, HCH and hexabromobiphenyl.
Follow-up: European Commission
tel: +32 2 299 1111, plus POPs pages http://ec.europa.eu/environment/pops/index_en.htm
and proposals on threshold concentrations http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/06/st10/st10163.en06.pdf
and permanent storage limits
Article Index: air, chemicals,