Persistent Organic Pollutants: What are they?

By 9th April 2020analytical, capabilities
persistent organic pollutants

What are Persistent Organic Pollutants?

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are the name of a group of chemicals that are toxic. They are called ‘persistent’ as they don’t break down in the environment and are typically considered heavy pollutants as they often find themselves in places they shouldn’t be or in places that don’t have any production of them.

What are they used for?

POPs have many uses, which can vary depending on their intent. They can be used in products where they are intentional and productive, such as being used in pest control, solvents, manufacturing, pesticides, paint and agriculture. They can also be unintentionally produced through cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust and waste incineration. This tends to mean that they will travel and bioaccumulate (accumulated through inhalation and consumption) in the fat cells of wildlife and humans. Most often, in cases of human consumption, they find their ways into our food, such as fish and wild foods or in the case of inhalation, they can come through fumes.

What risk do they pose to humans, when exposed to them?

POPs can cause a range of problems in humans, which is why it is important to limit contact with them. They can lead to damaged immune, reproductive and neurological systems, can cause people to be more susceptible to disease and in extreme cases, cancer. They also pose risk to the environment, through absorption in soil and air.

What impact do POPs have on plastic and WEEE recycling?

WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) is the recycling of any item that consumes power, through use of battery or plug. It is used as a way to monitor and recycle our electronic waste, that can cause environmental damage when sent to landfill.

POPs have an impact on plastic and WEEE recycling, due to the fact that many flame retardants used in the production of these products are classed as POPs. The most common type containing POPs is a brominated flame retardant. Products containing POPs are disposed of differently than products that don’t, requiring different methods of disposal and a need for testing to find out which products do and don’t contain these dangerous chemicals and at what quantities they are present. POPs in WEEE recycling that are over the quantities set in standards, must be destroyed to a point where potential harm to the environment and population are removed. This is usually done through the use of high temperature incineration, a method not commonly used in the UK. However, analytical testing on products containing persistent organic pollutants are able to be carried out through the use of GCMS technology, which allows us to identify which chemicals are present and in what quantities.

At Impact Solutions, we have the capabilities to carry out testing on Persistent Organic Pollutants through our GCMS in our state-of-the-art laboratory, using both solvent extraction and pyro techniques. Get in touch here to inquire further.