August 7-14, 2006

Taking Stock reports continued decline in industry releases of toxic chemicals to air, water

Industrial chemical releases fell by 20% in North America between 1998 and 2003, including a reduction in releases to air of 21% and a 13% reduction in on-site surface water releases. In 2003, says the latest Taking Stock report from the Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC), nearly three million tonnes of matched chemicals were released and transferred by a total of 23,816 industrial facilities in North America.

As in past years, the CEC's tenth annual report analyzes matched sets of data drawn from Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) and the U.S. Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) in order to provide a North American picture of industrial chemicals in the environment. The 2003 figures reflect the most recent reporting year of data analyzed by the CEC, based on a set of 204 chemicals common to both the NPRI and the TRI.

Almost half (1.4 million tonnes) the total reported releases and transfers were released on- and off-site, while almost 25% of the total (733,700 tonnes) were released into the air at facility sites. This quantity, notes the report, was more than the total chemicals released on-site to land, water and underground injection combined.

Just over one million tonnes of substances were sent off-site for recycling, with 577,700 tonnes transferred for further management, including treatment or energy recovery.

NPRI facilities accounted for 12% of the total reported amounts for North America, with TRI facilities making up the remaining 88%. While air releases made up about one quarter of total amounts reported for both NPRI and TRI facilities, the latter had proportionally higher surface water discharges, on-site land releases and transfers for further management. NPRI facilities, however, had proportionally higher transfers to recycling than TRI facilities, accounting for 49% of total reported amounts (compared to 32% for TRI facilities).

The report further notes that five industries-primary metals, chemical manufacturing, electric utilities, fabricated metal products and hazardous waste management and recovery-accounted for almost 75% of total releases and transfers in North America during 2003. Electric utilities in North America reported 30% of total releases, including the largest air releases (46% of the total). More than 60% of this sector's total reported releases were air releases of hydrochloric acid.

Of the six jurisdictions with the largest total releases and transfers of the matched chemicals, Ontario was the sole Canadian one, ranked second after Texas for total releases and transfers, followed by Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Ontario led the six for transfers to recycling, sending 57% of its total reported amounts.

A relatively small number of facilities in North America account for a substantial proportion of releases: 50 facilities reported 24% of total releases in 2003. Only two of these were in Canada: Ontario Power Generation's Nanticoke generating station, ranked 37th on the top 50 list with 4.76 million kilograms of on-site releases reported, mainly air releases of hydrochloric acid; and Stablex Canada's waste treatment facility in Blainville, Quebec, coming in 49th with just under four million kg of on-site releases, mainly of zinc/lead and compounds to land. Neither facility had off-site releases.

Almost 11% of all releases of chemicals in North America in 2003 were known or suspected carcinogens. For NPRI facilities, notes the report, 60% of carcinogenic substance releases were to air, while 38% of those from TRI facilities were to air and 32% were to land, mainly landfill disposal.

Styrene was the known or suspected carcinogen with the largest air releases, with the five leading sources all in the plastics industry and all located in the U.S. Formaldehyde was the known or suspected carcinogen with the largest surface water releases. Of the five leading sources, four were pulp and paper facilities in Canada: Irving Pulp and Paper's Saint John, NB plant, SFK's kraft pulp mill in St-FĂ©licien, Quebec, Tembec's Temiscaming, Quebec facility, and Stadacona Paper's Quebec City facility.

A year-over-year analysis of the findings is based on a matched data set of 203 chemicals from manufacturing facilities, electric utilities, hazardous waste management facilities, chemical wholesalers and coal mines. The results show an 8% decline in total releases and transfers of chemicals in North America from 2002 to 2003. Total releases for 2003 were down 9% from 2002, including decreases of 11% in on-site releases, 4% in on-site air releases, 6% in on-site surface water discharges and 2% in off-site releases.

The changes in releases and transfers between 1998 and 2003 are based on a matched data set of 153 chemicals from the same sectors. Total releases and transfers during this period decreased by 15%, with overall transfers to recycling and for further management declining by 3% and 17%, respectively. Releases of known or suspected carcinogens decreased by 25% between 1998 and 2003, compared to 20% for all matched chemicals.

During this period, the primary metals and chemical manufacturing sectors each reported a decrease of 15% in total releases and transfers, with electric utilities reporting a 9% reduction.

The report also includes a nine-year trend analysis, covering the 1995-2003 period and based on consistent data for 153 chemicals from manufacturing industries only and on- and off-site releases and transfers to treatment and sewage only. Over this nine-year period, total releases and transfers declined by 20% (10% in NPRI and 21% in TRI facilities).

On-site releases fell by 36%, with NPRI facilities reporting an 18% decrease and TRI facilities reporting a 38% decrease. On-site air releases declined by 43% overall, 8% from NPRI facilities and 48% from TRI facilities. At the same time, however on-site surface water discharges increased by 2%; a 10% increase from TRI facilities was offset by a 48% decrease from NPRI facilities.

Between 1995 and 2005, the report notes that the number of facilities reporting to the NPRI rose by 67%, while the number reporting to the TRI dropped by 14%. Increases or decreases in amounts reported reflect to some extent the changes in numbers of reporting facilities.

A first look at data on pollution prevention by industry shows that Canadian and U.S. facilities reporting pollution prevention (P2) activities showed reductions in releases and transfers from 2002 to 2003. P2 measures ranged from equipment modifications to process changes and materials substitution.

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

A special feature of this year's report is a chapter examining the cement manufacturing industry in North America. Although cement production facilities are relatively few in number (156), they are a significant source of some criteria air contaminants, emitting 256,123 tonnes of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 200,393 tonnes of sulfur dioxide (SO2) to air, as well as persistent bioaccumulative toxics, including 7,648 kg of mercury and its compounds.

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.

Another new feature in the report, notes CEC executive director William Kennedy, is the application of toxic equivalency potentials (TEPs) to carcinogens and developmental/reproductive toxic substances. This toxicity weighting measure, first introduced earlier this year in a CEC report on Toxic Chemicals and Children's Health in North America, provides an indication of relative human health risks in the absence of extensive local data on toxicity and exposure. By applying TEPs to certain toxic substances released to air and water, Kennedy says the Taking Stock report offers an added dimension of analysis to interpret pollutant release and transfer register (PRTR) data.

This year, for the first time, PRTR data have become available in Mexico through its Registro de Emisiones y Transferencia de Contaminantes (RETC), which covers 104 chemicals on which industry in Mexico must report. Consequently, the 2007 edition of Taking Stock will incorporate RETC data, providing a more complete and fully North American analysis of toxic chemical releases and transfers.

The full report may be viewed on the Taking Stock Web site,, which also allows users to customize reports by chemical, facility, sector or geographic region. More information is available from Spencer Tripp at the CEC, 514/350-4331.

In other activities, the CEC has called attention to an announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that U.S. lindane manufacturers have voluntarily agreed to withdraw registration of the pesticide for its last six remaining agricultural uses. Lindane, a persistent, bioaccumulative chemical, was used as a grain seed treatment. It is part of the organochlorine family of chemicals and has been the focus of a four-year effort by the CEC to develop a North American Regional Action Plan (NARAP). The EPA announcement, said the CEC, underlines the success of this initiative. Similar NARAPs on chlordane and DDT successfully eliminated the use of these pesticides in North America, and plans are currently in place to reduce the impact of mercury and PCB on the environment.

The lindane NARAP being developed by Canada, the U.S. and Mexico has helped determine current sources of this pesticide, including its production outside North America. It will offer options for the three countries to further reduce the risk of exposure and set out a program to co-ordinate monitoring and assessment on a continental basis.

There are several alternative substances for lindane. Use of the chemical as a pharmaceutical treatment for head lice and scabies will still be authorized in Canada and the U.S., but generally only in cases where no other treatment has been effective.

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