Intervenor: vol. 27, no. 1 - 2, January - June 2002

Toxic Substances Added To The National Pollutants Release Inventory

Do you want to know how much pollution is going into your neighbourhood from a factory in your community? Do you ever wonder how much industrial contamination is entering the river that you swim in? Do you live near a hazardous waste landfill or incinerator and want to know how much and what kinds of chemicals are being shipped there? Do you want to know what kinds of contaminants are being emitted from the factory that you work in? It is your right to get answers to these kinds of questions.

One of the best sources of answers to these and many other questions about pollution releases is Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). Facility-specific pollutant release data from 1993 to 2000 is available from Environment Canada. It can be accessed at Environment Canada's web site at www.ec.gc.ca/pdb/npri.

The 2000 data, which was released on the web site in November 2001, includes 268 substances. For the first time, this includes data on dioxins and furans, and hexachlorobenzene, which must be reported at the level of quantification for releases, i.e.,"the lowest concentration that can be accurately measured using sensitive but routine sampling and analytical methods". The level at which mercury releases must be reported was decreased for 2000 from manufactured, processed or otherwise used at a total quantity of 10 tonnes during the year to 5 kilograms. Likewise the reporting requirement for polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) was lowered from 10 tonnes manufactured, processed or otherwise used during the year to 50 kilograms.

Until these changes were made, NPRI data has not been very useful for tracking progress on reducing and eliminating some of the substances that have been of highest priority for our work. For example, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which was signed by Canada and the U.S. in 1978, says that to have a healthy ecosystem we must have zero discharge of persistent toxic substances. Most persistent toxic substances were not reported on at all or only to a very limited extent because of the 10 tonnes manufactured, processed or otherwise used thresholds that the NPRI previously required.

The preliminary NPRI data that has been released thus far for 2000 does not yet make it possible to total the amounts of dioxins and furans that were reported in 2000. The U.S. also just started requiring reporting of dioxins and furans at low thresholds under its Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), The TRI data for 2000 showed that the amounts of dioxins and furans released from manufacturing and production processes had previously been underestimated by approximately eight times.

For the 2002 reporting year, the NPRI has also been expanded to require reporting on nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, total particulate matter (PM), particulate matter less than 10 microns (PM10), particulate matter less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5), and sulphur oxides. Also the thresholds have been lowered for cadmium and arsenic.

Currently the multi-stakeholder group that advises Environment Canada on the NPRI is considering ways to add greenhouse gases to the NPRI for the 2003 reporting year.

To learn more about the NPRI and how to use it, go to the web site put together by CELA, the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP) and Environmental Defence Canada. Their site www.pollutionwatch.org helps you find the releases in your community, rank sources of pollutants, and to find out about the environmental and health effects of each substance reported to the NPRI. The NPRI data for 2000 have not yet been added to this site. You can also find out more about the NPRI and how to use it from A Citizens' Guide to the National Pollutant Release Inventory, which is available from www.cielap.org.
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John Jackson is an environmental consultant and a board member of CELA.