May 30, 2005

Lead and compounds remain leading toxic pollutant released by industries, CEC reports

Although lead pollution has been in decline since the phaseout of leaded gasoline in the 1980s, the metal and its compounds remain the leading toxic substance released by industrial facilities, the Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC) said last week. With releases totalling 43.4 million kilograms (kg), lead and its compounds account for 24% of the total releases of 77 developmental toxicants listed in Taking Stock 2002, the CEC's ninth annual comparative review of sources, releases and transfers of industrial pollutants in North America.

In the past, mobile sources were the main contributor of lead emissions to the atmosphere. Since the 1980s, however, policy and regulatory initiatives in Canada and the United States have dramatically decreased lead concentrations in the environment. In the U.S. alone, lead concentrations in the air declined by 94% between 1983 and 2002.

Today, the leading industrial sources of lead in the environment are primary metals facilities such as smelters (accounting for 66% of industrial air emissions) and electric utilities (responsible for 26% of industrial surface water discharges), although a diverse group of 7,040 facilities contributed to the overall releases.

Canadian facilities, representing 5% of the total facilities reporting lead and its compounds, accounted for 42% of air emissions in 2002. Ontario was the leading source of lead emissions to air, accounting for 145,000 kg, or 15% of the total, followed by Quebec and Manitoba. In fact, the report indicates that air releases of lead were, on average, more than 13 times greater for Canadian facilities than those in the United States.

The CEC notes that a change in the reporting thresholds for both Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) and the U.S. Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), from approximately ten tonnes to approximately 50 kg, has provided a more complete picture of releases and transfers of lead from industrial sources.

"Government and industry have demonstrated success in reducing atmospheric pollution by making the switch to non-leaded fuels, but lead pollution is still a threat to human and environmental health and further progress is necessary," CEC executive director William Kennedy observed.

Persistent, bioaccumulative and recognized as both a developmental and reproductive toxicant, lead is classified as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and as a hazardous and a priority pollutant under U.S. air and water quality legislation. Even in small doses, lead exposure--primarily from deteriorated lead-based paint, or lead-contaminated air, water, soil or dust--has been associated with nervous system damage in fetuses and young children, resulting in learning deficits and lowered IQ.

Overall, more than 3.25 million tonnes of toxic chemicals were released and transferred from industrial facilities in North America in 2002, says the report. Facilities reporting to the NPRI accounted for 11% of the total, with TRI facilities accounting for the remaining 89%.

Almost half of the total reported releases and transfers (1.54 million tonnes) were released on- and off-site, with almost one-quarter (752,300 tonnes) released into the air at facility sites. The total quantity of chemicals released to air was more than the combined total of chemicals released on-site to water and land (including underground injection).

Between 1998 and 2002, the report notes that total releases of all matched chemicals decreased by 11%. On-site releases declined by 13%, off-site releases by 5% and other transfers for further management by 7% during the same period. At the same time, transfers for recycling increased by 1%. Releases of carcinogens during this period declined as well, by 26 %. These changes reflect a subset of data reported consistently over the 1998-2002 period and including manufacturing facilities, electric utilities, hazardous waste management facilities, chemical wholesalers and coal mines.

At 211,632 tonnes, Ontario was second only to Texas as the jurisdiction with the largest total releases and transfers of matched chemicals; other jurisdictions reporting more than 150,000 tonnes included Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania. These six jurisdictions together were responsible for 37% of all releases and transfers of chemicals in North America in 2002 and 32% of all releases on- and off-site. Ontario facilities, the report notes, had the largest transfers to recycling of any jurisdiction.

A relatively small number of individual facilities accounted for a large proportion of releases: the 20 facilities with the largest total releases accounted for 20% of total releases reported for 2002. Only one of the 20 facilities was in Canada, Ontario Power Generation's Nanticoke facility.

Over an eight-year period from 1995 to 2002, total releases and transfers fell by 7%, including a 9% decrease for NPRI and 7% for TRI; this trend is based on an analysis focusing specifically on 153 matched chemicals, manufacturing industries and on- and off-site releases and transfers to treatment and sewage.

On-site releases declined by 21%, with a 15% decrease reported by NPRI facilities and 21% by TRI facilities. Off-site releases, i.e. transfers to disposal (mainly landfill), declined by 14% in NPRI, but rose by 49% for TRI, for an overall increase of 38% throughout North America. Transfers off-site for further management increased in both countries, by 70% for NPRI and 18% for TRI.

During the same period, the report notes trends for several industry sectors with the largest quanties of releases and transfers. Chemical manufacturers, who reported the largest releases and transfers in 1995, showed an 18% reduction, to second-largest in 2002. The primary metals sector, which reported the second-largest total releases and transfers in 1995, moved to first place in 2002, with a 36% increase. The paper products sector remained in third place for total releases and transfers in 1995 and 2002, even with a 22% reduction.

Commenting on the report, federal Environment Minister St√ąphane Dion said the government recognizes the need for further action to address lead emissions from industrial sources and has proposed pollution prevention planning measures which would reduce lead emissions from metal mining smelters by approximately 30% by 2008 and 60% by 2015, relative to 1998 levels. The proposals also target particulate matter and sulfur dioxide, which will contribute to curbing smog and acid rain. The phased-in approach will allow Canadian smelters to reduce their emissions significantly while fostering the economic benefits of the industry.

Taking Stock tracks a matched set of comparable data derived from pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs), i.e. Canada's NPRI and the U.S. TRI. For the first time this year, the report also includes comparable Mexican data for certain criteria air contaminants. Mexico is continuing to make progress with its now-mandatory PRTR and has recently confirmed that public reporting of data for a list of 104 chemicals will begin in 2006.

For inquiries about a particular facility, industrial sector, province or state, the Taking Stock on-line Web site,, allows users to customize reports by chemical, facility, sector or geographic region.

More information is also available from Spencer Tripp at the CEC, 514/350-4331.

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