October 29, 2007

Taking Stock shows large emitters drive pollution decline, numerous small facilities show higher releases

A handful of industrial facilities that are the leading pollution emitters in Canada and the U.S. have been driving a steady decline in releases of toxic chemicals to the environment--15% between 1998 and 2004 for both countries overall, says the Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC) in its latest Taking Stock report.

This achievement, however, contrasts sharply with a substantial increase in chemical releases and transfers by a much larger group of industrial facilities that report lower volumes of emissions, adds the report, by the Montreal-based CEC.

Released October 18, Taking Stock continues the bilateral Canadian/U.S. analysis of industrial pollution releases from a matched set of facilities that has been its hallmark since 1994. The Canadian and U.S. data come from the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) and the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), respectively.

In 2004, these facilities reported a total of 3.12 million tonnes of chemicals released or transferred. Over one-third of this amount was released on-site, with another third (1.1 million tonnes) transferred to recycling, says the report. Of all on-site releases, almost two-thirds (707,500 tonnes) were released into the air, and 217,200 went to land, mainly to landfills. Water releases were much lower than air and land releases, adds the report.

On-site releases made up 25% of NPRI total releases and transfers, and 38% of TRI, while transfers to recycling were almost half (45%) of NPRI totals and 33% of TRI.

Total releases and transfers in the two countries rose by 3% from 2003 to 2004, although the long-term trend has seen a 9% decline from 1998 through 2004. In 2004, a relatively small number of facilities (50 out of more than 23,000) reported 19% of the total reported amounts of releases and transfers.

The increase in total releases and transfers from 2003 to 2004 reflects differences between the NPRI and the TRI, including higher off-site releases (i.e. transfers for disposal) reported in the NPRI and increases in transfers to recycling reported in the TRI. Both the NPRI and the TRI showed a 2% decrease in on-site air emissions.

By industry sector, primary metals (including smelters, steel mills and metal recyclers) led in terms of largest total releases and transfers reported in both Canada and the U.S. (46% of NPRI and 23% of TRI totals) as well as 70% of all off-site releases (as transfers to disposal, mainly to landfills). In terms of total releases (adjusted) made up nearly half (49%) of NPRI totals, while electric utilities (including coal- and oil-fired power plants) dominated the TRI, accounting for 31% of the total.

The report notes that reporting of releases by Zalev Brothers, a scrap metal recycling operation in Windsor, Ontario, put this company at the top of the list of facilities reporting the largest amounts of releases in 2004 and resulted in Ontario being ranked as the leading jurisdiction for total releases and transfers (followed by Texas, Ohio and Indiana). However, a significant data correction was made by this company after the cut-off date which substantially reduced its reported off-site releases and transfers to recycling for 2004. Although this correction has affected certain rankings in the report's Canada/U.S. analysis, the fact remains that without reporting from this facility, Ontario would have ranked second after Texas for total pollutant releases and transfers in 2004. Without this facility as well, the primary metals sector still would have led in reported releases and transfers, with an increase of 6% (5% in total releases).

The CEC's analysis demonstrates that Canadian and U.S. facilities that reported pollution prevention (P2) activities (e.g. product and process redesign, spill and leak detection, and substitution of less toxic raw materials for more toxic ones) showed reductions from 2002-2004. Facilities not engaged in these activities did not show similar progress.

For instance, notes the report, the group of NPRI facilities reporting P2 activities during the 2002-2004 period had a decrease of 13% in releases and transfers of chemicals, compared to an increase of 8% for NPRI facilities reporting no P2 activities.

"The evidence is clear that industry and government action to limit chemical releases is showing steady progress," said Adri·n V·zquez-G·lvez, executive director of the CEC. "It is equally clear that a large number of small and medium-size industrial facilities need to do a better job in reducing their waste and emissions if we are going to see even greater progress in North America. We trust the progress shown by industry leaders and the fact that pollution prevention is a proven strategy will encourage everyone to tackle pollution issues at the source."

A special section on industrial recycling provides a more detailed look at this activity. Its data show that materials sent for recycling accounted for over one-third of Canadian and U.S. releases reported in 2004, a total of more than one million tonnes. Most of the materials were metals, including copper, zinc, lead and their compounds. Increases in production and in scrap metal prices are cited as the main drivers behind the recent growth in recycling.

Of the nearly 318,000 tonnes of chemicals sent as off-site transfers reported by NPRI facilities, 63% went to sites within Canada and 62% went to recycling. Canadian NPRI facilities sent just over 116,000 tonnes to U.S. facilities, 55% of these cross-border transfers going to disposal and 41% for recycling.

For the first time, the Taking Stock report includes data from Mexico, based on that country's Registro de Emisiones y Transferencia de Contaminantes (RETC) system for reporting pollutant releases and transfers. Across the three countries, metals and their compounds (specifically lead, chromium, nickel and mercury) were reported by the highest proportion of facilities.

The trilateral analysis is based on matched data from some nine industrial sectors, 56 chemicals, and 10,000 facilities, comparing releases and transfers for similar facilities in Canada, Mexico and the United States. The report describes a different pattern of releases and transfers in each of the three countries.

The full report may be viewed on the Taking Stock Web site, www.cec.org/takingstock. An interactive feature of the site allows users to customize reports by chemical, facility, sector or geographic region.

In addition, the availability of new information on chemical releases and transfers from Mexican industrial sources has enabled the CEC to create the first seamless, North America-wide map layer displaying point-specific industrial pollutant data in all three countries. Using the Google Earth mapping service, the CEC's map layer plots over 33,000 North American industrial facilities that reported releases and transfers of pollutants in 2004. This information may be viewed at www.cec.org/naatlas/prtr.

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