What are extremely dangerous Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)?

What are extremely dangerous Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)?

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals in organisms, causing diverse effects on human health and the environment. They are carbon-based chemical compounds and mixtures that include industrial compounds like PCBs, pesticides like DDT, and unwanted residues like dioxins. POPs are mainly products and by-products of industrial activity, of relatively recent origin.

These substances are transported long distances through air and water and have spread throughout the world, to regions very distant from their original source. The international community now has to take urgent global action to eliminate them.

They are polluting because ...

In very low concentrations, they seriously affect the health of humans, animals and the environment. Some POPs, in extraordinarily low concentrations, can alter normal biological functions, including the natural activity of hormones and other chemical messengers, and trigger a host of potentially harmful effects.

They are persistent because ...

They remain in the environment for a long time, even dozens of years, resisting degradation by the sun, its chemical degradation and degradation by other microorganisms.

They are bioaccumulative because ...

They accumulate in the fatty tissues of organisms. They are biomagnified, that is, they increase their concentration by hundreds or even millions of times as they move up the food chains. POPs generally have high solubility in lipids (they dissolve easily in fats and oils) and low solubility in water (they do not dissolve easily in water).

They disperse ...

POPs are generally semi-volatile, meaning that they evaporate at a relatively slow rate. They are widely dispersed in the environment, through the wind, rivers and ocean currents, moving to all parts of the planet. They have been found in water, soil, sediment, animals and people, even in the Arctic and in places far removed from where they were originally released. The colder the climate, the lower the tendency for POPs to evaporate.

Which are?

The problems with POPs have motivated their prohibition and severe restriction in many countries and international actions. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has called for the establishment of a mandatory international agreement on 12 POPs as a priority, which also defines the criteria for adding new substances and establishes support mechanisms for developing countries.


The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which entered into force on May 17, 2004, sets the goal of reducing, and over time totally eliminating, persistent organic pollutants, starting with the most harmful:

ALDRINA: pesticide used in the fight against soil insects such as termites, grasshoppers, corn rootworm and other agricultural pests.

POLYCHLORINATED BIPHENYLS: These compounds are used in industry as heat exchange fluids, in electrical transformers and capacitors, and as additives in paints, carbonless paper, sealants, and plastics.

CHLORDANE: widely used in termite control and as a broad spectrum insecticide on a number of agricultural crops.

DDT - Perhaps the most infamous of the persistent organic pollutants, DDT was used extensively during World War II to protect soldiers and civilians from malaria, typhus, and other insect-borne diseases. In many countries, DDT continues to be applied against mosquitoes to fight malaria.

DIELDRINE: used primarily to fight termites and pests that attack textiles, dieldrin has also been used to combat diseases spread by insects and insects that live in agricultural soils.

DIOXINS: These polluting chemicals are unintentionally generated by incomplete combustion, as well as during the manufacture of some pesticides and other chemicals. Additionally, some types of metal recycling and pulp and paper bleaching can generate dioxins. They have also been found in automotive emissions, and in tobacco smoke and the combustion of peat and charcoal.

ENDRIN: this insecticide is sprayed on the leaves of some crops such as cotton and cereals. It has also been used as a rodenticide, in the fight against, for example, mice and voles.

FURANS: These polluting compounds are produced unintentionally from the same processes that generate dioxins, and are also found in commercial PCB mixtures.

HEPTACHLOR: Used primarily to kill soil insects and termites, heptachlor has been used more widely to combat cotton insects, grasshoppers, other crop pests, and malaria vector mosquitoes.

HEXACHLOROBENZENE: Hexachlorobenzene attacks fungi that affect food crops. It is also a by-product of the manufacture of certain industrial chemicals, and exists as an impurity in the processes that generate dioxins and furans.

MIREX: This insecticide is used mainly to fight fire ants, and has been used against other types of ants and termites. It has also been used as a flame retardant in plastics, rubber and electrical objects.

TOXAPHENE: this insecticide, also called camphechlor, is used in cotton crops, cereals, fruits, nuts and vegetables. It has also been used to fight cattle ticks and mites.



They contaminate food especially dairy products and meat.

They pass to the fetus through the placenta and are excreted in breast milk; threatening the right of women to protect their reproductive health and the health of future generations.

They produce chronic effects such as cancer and malformations in animals and humans.

They pollute the soil, atmosphere, water, flora and fauna.

In animals, POPs produce: decrease in reproduction and therefore in population size, abnormal functioning of the thyroid and other disorders of the hormonal system, feminization of males and masculinization of females, behavioral abnormalities, tumors, cancer and congenital malformations.

In humans POPs can cause: cancer and tumors at multiple sites, neuro-behavioral disorders including learning disabilities, decreased performance and changes in temperament, changes in the immune and neurological system, reproductive problems and sex-linked disorders, period of breastfeeding in mothers, diseases such as endometriosis (gynecological disorder, chronic and painful, in which the tissues of the uterus grow outside the uterus.), the increased incidence of diabetes and others.

What to do?

Require governments to develop national plans for the elimination of POPs and an environmental policy that applies the precautionary principle to guarantee the protection of health and the environment.

Demand our governments an active participation in the negotiations of the International Convention called by the United Nations to achieve the global elimination of POPs.

Actively participate with the organizations that make up the International Network for the Elimination of POPs (IPEN), made up of environmental groups, doctors, scientists, consumers and social organizations from Latin America, Europe, the United States and Africa.

Defend the right to health and a healthy environment, for you, your family and future generations.


Instead of DDT, comprehensive mosquito and malaria control programs: alternative insecticides, botanical repellants, home improvement, detection and timely treatment of the sick.

Instead of chemical pesticides promote the ecological management of pests: biological control, botanical insecticides, biological fertilization, rotation and association of crops.

Avoid incineration of chlorinated waste present in hospital waste, hazardous waste and urban garbage; and supporting cleaner production programs and dioxin-free treatment technologies.

Eliminate PVC in packaging and articles for human consumption.

Use gas instead of hazardous waste as fuel in cement kilns.

Material made by:
Regional Coordination of RAP-AL
Collaboration and Review:
María Elena Rozas - Alliance for a Better Quality of Life - RAP-AL-Chile
Fernando Bejarano - RAPAM
Information Service on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Environmental Health

Video: Long-Range Atmospheric Transport of Persistent Organic Pollutants (October 2020).