Jump to main content
Jump to site search

Issue 5, 2019
Previous Article Next Article

Why is high persistence alone a major cause of concern?

Author affiliations


Persistence is a hazard criterion for chemicals enshrined in chemical regulation worldwide. In this paper, we argue that the higher the persistence of a chemical, the greater the emphasis that it should be given in chemicals assessment and decision making. We provide case studies for three classes of highly persistent chemicals (chlorofluorocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) to exemplify problems unique to highly persistent chemicals, despite their otherwise diverse properties. Many well-known historical chemical pollution problems were the result of the release of highly persistent chemicals. Using evaluative modeling calculations, we demonstrate that if a chemical is highly persistent, its continuous release will lead to continuously increasing contamination irrespective of the chemical's physical–chemical properties. We argue that these increasing concentrations will result in increasing probabilities of the occurrence of known and unknown effects and that, once adverse effects are identified, it will take decades, centuries or even longer to reverse contamination and therefore effects. Based on our findings we propose that high persistence alone should be established as a sufficient basis for regulation of a chemical, which we term the “P-sufficient approach”. We argue that regulation on high persistence alone is not over-precautionary given the historical and ongoing problems that persistent chemicals have caused. Regulation of highly persistent chemicals, for example by restriction of emissions, would not only be precautionary, but would serve to prevent poorly reversible future impacts.

Graphical abstract: Why is high persistence alone a major cause of concern?

Back to tab navigation

Associated articles

Article information

05 Nov 2018
28 Mar 2019
First published
29 Mar 2019

This article is Open Access

Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2019,21, 781-792
Article type

Why is high persistence alone a major cause of concern?

I. T. Cousins, C. A. Ng, Z. Wang and M. Scheringer, Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2019, 21, 781
DOI: 10.1039/C8EM00515J

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported Licence. Material from this article can be used in other publications provided that the correct acknowledgement is given with the reproduced material and it is not used for commercial purposes.

Reproduced material should be attributed as follows:

  • For reproduction of material from NJC:
    [Original citation] - Published by The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) on behalf of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the RSC.
  • For reproduction of material from PCCP:
    [Original citation] - Published by the PCCP Owner Societies.
  • For reproduction of material from PPS:
    [Original citation] - Published by The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) on behalf of the European Society for Photobiology, the European Photochemistry Association, and RSC.
  • For reproduction of material from all other RSC journals:
    [Original citation] - Published by The Royal Society of Chemistry.

Information about reproducing material from RSC articles with different licences is available on our Permission Requests page.

Social activity

Search articles by author