Toxic Releases by Industry Down in North America

Toxic Releases by Industry Down in North America

New data presented in the latest Taking Stock report from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) show that industrial chemical releases fell by 20 percent in North America between 1998 and 2003, including a reduction in releases to air of 21 percent.

Released today, the annual report compiles data from the Canadian National Pollutant Release Inventory and the United States' Toxics Release Inventory that are matched to provide a North American picture of industrial chemicals in the environment. It finds that almost three million tonnes of chemicals were released and transferred in 2003, the most recent reporting year of data analyzed by the CEC, by 23,816 facilities.

A first look at data on pollution prevention by industry also offers some encouragement. Facilities from Canada and the United States that reported pollution prevention activities, ranging from equipment modifications to process changes and materials substitution, showed reductions from 2002 to 2003 in releases and transfers.

Conversely, facilities in Canada not reporting pollution prevention activities showed a net increase in releases and transfers. The facilities in the United States without pollution prevention activities had a smaller decrease than their counterparts.

"It is encouraging to see the reductions in releases and transfers of chemicals in our environment, and that pollution prevention efforts offer the promise of even further reductions," says William V. Kennedy, executive director of the CEC. "We hope this evidence will prompt more industrial facilities to embrace pollution prevention activities over end-of-pipe solutions."

The report also takes a special look at the cement manufacturing industry. It finds that although they are relatively few in number (156), cement manufacturing facilities are a significant source of some criteria air contaminants (256,123 metric tonnes of NOx and 200,393 metric tonnes of SO(2)) and persistent bioaccumulative toxics (7,648 kg of mercury and its compounds to air).

Comparing the releases and transfers of cement facilities in Canada, Mexico and the United States was more difficult, due to differences in individual reporting methods between countries. For example, cement facilities in Canada reported releases and transfers of 25 substances, while in the United States, facilities reported releases and transfers of 79 substances. The differences, however, may be due to several factors, including the fuels and raw materials, processes, and pollution control devices used, and the methods employed to estimate releases and transfers.

The next edition of Taking Stock will feature data from Mexico's new Pollutant Release and Transfer Register, the Registro de Emisiones y Transferencia de Contaminantes (RETC). The Mexican pollution reporting system lists 104 chemicals that must be reported by industry in Mexico.