Data, data everywhere - but nothing to help you think

It took many years for officials in public bodies to accept that rules requiring public access to environmental information applied to them. The requirements, enshrined in a 1990 EC Directive, were only grudgingly transposed into UK law.

Fifteen years on, the mood has changed, and openness poses new challenges for environmental regulators. Industry organisations complain that information on how well companies manage their facilities - reported in the operator and pollution risk appraisal (OPRA) scheme - lacks context (see pp 50-52 ).

The Environment Agency's pollution inventory also has its detractors in corners of industry. Launched in 1999, the inventory was a response to Friends of the Earth's right-to-know campaign. Impressively, it now reports releases of 206 substances from some 4,000 industrial sites.

Frustratingly, though, the website no longer permits users to search the database to draw up league tables showing the top industrial polluters. We had to request a copy of the full database on CD-ROM to compile our article (see pp 10-11 ). This is not the first time the facility has been removed from the website.

The Agency assures us that the full search facility will shortly be restored and that it was removed only inadvertently - ironically when it revamped the What's-in-Your-Backyard feature last May. The result, for the time being, is that people anxious to find out about local factories are subjected to reams of data - but scarcely a jot of meaningful information. Figures showing how much a site emits to air and water are not very helpful unless you can see how they compare across the country.

We were dismayed to discover that the inventory for Scotland, relaunched in August, deliberately prevents users from drawing up lists of emission sources or league tables for any particular pollutant. And the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has no intention of introducing such a facility. Wrongly, it feels that, having dumped data into the public arena, its job is done.

A new look for ENDS

We hope you will appreciate the new design features introduced this month after extensive reader research. Among the improvements, we have expanded the contents listing and created new sections to make it easier to find relevant content.

In October, we will make further improvements to the subscription package with the launch of a weekly email newsletter, ENDS Report Bulletin, offering a succinct round-up of policy and legislation developments.

Above all, our facelift is aimed at making it easier to keep on top of the ever-growing mountains of information that environmental professionals in business, consultancy and public bodies need. Your feedback is most welcome.

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