The CIA's report is its fifth annual account of its members' progress in implementing the "Responsible Care" programme. At the launch on 26 June, junior Environment Minister Angela Eagle said she was impressed with the programme and urged other sectors to follow suit. But she also voiced a warning.
Local people in Runcorn, she said, "will be far more aware of the recent pollution incident at ICI than they are of your commendable `Responsible Care' initiative. The risk for the industry is that all the good work that goes on under that heading is negated overnight with an incident of [that] kind."
Indeed, the recent series of incidents at ICI's plants (ENDS Report 268, pp 23-26 ) may have repercussions for other chemical companies. "We have recently made clear to the [Environment] Agency's senior managers our desire that all significant violations of environmental standards and licences should be met with rigorous enforcement action," Ms Eagle said. "Polluters must be in no doubt that standards are to be respected and the public must be able to have confidence in environmental regulation."
Included in the CIA's report are estimates of environmental expenditure by the entire chemical industry, not just its member companies.
On capital expenditure, recent annual CIA surveys have greatly exaggerated the likely burden of environmental regulation, forecasting that environmental spending would account for up to 24% of total spending by the mid-1990s. In fact, the highest figure was 14% in 1992, and last year it dipped to 11%, the lowest since 1991. Actual spending in 1996 was £243 million.
Even these figures are inflated - by an unknown amount - by the CIA's practice of treating entire investment in new capacity as "environmental" where the "main reason for undertaking the expenditure is to manufacture products with improved environmental benefits, e.g. alternatives to CFCs."
Operating expenditures on environmental protection totalled £723 million in 1996, accounting for 5% of the industry's operating costs. In cash terms the figure has barely changed since 1992, and in real terms it is now some way below the 1990 level of £652 million.
The report shows that improvements occurred in most areas of the industry's performance last year. The figures are based on returns from 99% of the 333 manufacturing sites run by CIA members - the highest rate to date. However, not all firms provided full data, and so for some indicators the CIA used matched samples of companies reporting data for both 1995 and 1996 to illustrate trends.
Total special waste arisings for off-site disposal amounted to 557,166 tonnes in 1996, with 52% going to landfill, 18% to both reprocessing and incineration, and 12% to energy recovery - probably as cement kiln fuel.
This was one of three areas singled out by Ms Eagle for the next phase of Responsible Care. She suggested that the CIA set a target to increase the number of companies with certified environmental management systems "over the next few years."
The Minister also urged the industry to "lead the way on environmental reporting - improving the quality of reports, increasing the amount of quantified information disclosed and making greater use of external verification." And she proposed that the CIA work with the Government "to develop environmental indicators of performance to enable companies in the industry see how their progress compares with others in the industry and with other industries."