EU limits on POPs in waste still up in the air

ENDs Europe - June 12, 2006

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

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 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 and proposals on threshold concentrations

and permanent storage limits

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