Smaller releases to be cut from pollution listing

The Environment Agency wants to streamline its pollution inventory by removing dozens of less commonly released substances from reporting obligations, even though some are very toxic.

A consultation released by the Environment Agency in December proposes to strike out a large number of substances included in its pollution inventory, some of them highly toxic.1 The Agency intends to exclude emissions data on 39 substances, 30 of them volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Eight new substances will be included, seven of which are specific pollutants under the EU water framework Directive (ENDS Report 390, pp 43-44 ).

The pollution inventory was introduced in 1998 to report significant releases of pollutants to air, water and land (ENDS Report 287, pp 37-38 ). The data not only informs the public but also facilitates reporting under the Kyoto Protocol and other international agreements. It also helps prioritise the Agency’s regulatory effort.

The Agency is not intending to change reporting thresholds below which releases do not have to be reported. This would mean it was no longer possible to compare releases over time and evaluate industry performance.

Thirty of the departing VOCs "have been reported above thresholds at very few sites, and at relatively low quantities", the Agency says. But a number are nonetheless highly toxic and some contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone.

Among compounds to be excluded is methyl isocyanate, a release of which killed nearly 3,800 in the Bhopal disaster in India (ENDS Report 406, pp 32-35 ). Further notable chemicals to be shelved include suspected carcinogen trichlorotoluene, the highly toxic chemical intermediate trimellitic anhydride and amitrole, a herbicide toxic to fish and possibly carcinogenic.

Emissions of carbon dioxide, previously reported from chemical processes and combustion separately, will now be given as a single figure. Three pesticides used in fish farming will also be removed, as will several radionuclides that are released in "insignificant" quantities.

Chromium VI, the most toxic form of the element, is the most notable addition to the inventory. Releases to both air and water will be recorded. Discharges of its less harmful cousin, chromium III, to water will also be added.

Specific proposals to change the way information is gathered for large combustion plants will follow in due course (see p 55 ).

The Agency intends to extend the inventory’s information gathering process to include data on resource efficiency. A new self-assessment tool, known as READ, will be introduced for this purpose. The system will enable businesses to compare their performance through sector profiles. Intensive farming, mines and landfill sites will be excluded from the scheme.

Many installations already provide similar data, so READ is expected to prove a minor burden to firms. Benefits are estimated at £3-16 million per annum through boosting efficiency savings.

The proposals cover 2009 to 2011. Responses to the consultation should be made by 1 March.

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