Tracking Pollutant Releases and Transfers in North America to Support Sustainability
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Tracking Pollutant Releases and Transfers in North America to Support Sustainability

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Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) program manager Orlando Cabrera Rivera gave this presentation about the North American Pollutant Release and Transfer Project (PRTR) at the 2012......

Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) program manager Orlando Cabrera Rivera gave this presentation about the North American Pollutant Release and Transfer Project (PRTR) at the 2012 National Training Conference on the Toxics Release Inventory and Environmental Conditions in Communities in Washington, DC.

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  • This map using Google Earth displays the more than 35,000 facilities that report to the three PRTR programs in NA. In North America we have three national PRTR programs: the US’ Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), the Canadian National Pollutant Releases Inventory (NPRI), and in Mexico, the Registro de Emisiones y Transferencia de Contaminantes (RETC). Each of these PRTR systems has different pollutant coverage and reporting requirements. So, we do not have information on all substances that are released into the environment; just for those subject to PRTR reporting.
  • The CEC’s North American PRTR project brings together the information from the NA national PRTR systems; and adds value by providing analyses and access through the TS report and TS online website.
  • This is an example of a data search for metal releases to water. The results can be exported in Excel format or for use in a Spreadsheet, and also exported in KML format for use in Google Earth, as you will see in the following image.
  • You can then download a Watershed map layer from the CEC ’s North American Atlas Project, and examine the location of the pollutant sources in the context of the surrounding environment; in this case, the shared watersheds between and within the North American countries. The environmental management of these shared watersheds should take into account all sources of pollution from each of the countries. Highlighted in this map are the watersheds of the Columbian River, shared between Canada and the US, and the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, shared between the US and Mexico. On both of these cases, we found reported releases to water of heavy metals such as lead and mercury
  • One of the tools in TS Online allows the users explore information on cross-border transfers of toxic substances. This tool was developed last year under NAPRTR project, partly to assist in some of the work conducted by the CEC ’s Hazardous Waste Task Force. You can view the amounts and types of transfers from one country to another (recycling, disposal, treatment); the substances being transferred; and information on both the sending and receiving facilities. This information can be exported in a variety of formats, including Excel, or for visualization using Google Maps.
  • These charts present the North American, and individual country profiles of reported pollutant releases and transfers for the year 2009. These do not include Criteria Air Contaminants nor Green House Gases. It is important to keep in mind that reporting requirements vary from country to country (sector coverage, reporting thresholds, substances, etc.)
  • Releases of 444 pollutants to air (totaling over 542 million kg): Five pollutants accounted for 63% of the total (and hydrochloric acid alone contributed one-quarter of the total) The data reflect differences in each country ’s industrial make-up (US & Mexican fossil fuel power plants are major sources); and they also reflect differences in national PRTR pollutant reporting requirements. Releases of 257 pollutants to water (totaling over 211 million kg): Nitrate compounds and ammonia made up 91% of the total Much of this amount was contributed by Canadian public wastewater treatment facilities (POTWs are not subject to TRI reporting). Ammonia and nitrates contribute to nutrient loading and aquatic “dead zones”, but aren’t subject to Mexico’s RETC (none of the top 10 pollutants released to water is). More than 841 million kg in releases to land (214 pollutants): Six metals and their compounds (zinc, lead, barium, copper, manganese, arsenic) accounted for 87% of the total Metal mining facilities contributed large proportions of these releases to land (a category which comprise a wide variety of management methods). Underground injection (in Canada and US only) of 151 pollutants: Together, hydrogen sulfide and total reduced sulfur accounted for about 75% of the totalThe oil and gas extraction sector in Canada reported most of this amount. US TRI does not require reporting from this sector and until very recently, hydrogen sulfide was also exempt from TRI reporting Underground injection is not reported under RETC.
  • Now, when we look at the top substances by amount, we need to take into account the differences in reporting requirements of the PRTR systems. For example, Sulfuric acid is the substance that was reported in the highest amounts. Most of this comes from Canada. Transfers of sulfuric acid are reportable under the Canadian PRTR, but not in the US and Mexico. In the US, the PRTR only requires reporting on atmospheric emissions of sulfuric acid. Zinc is another example: releases and transfers of this substance are subject to reporting in the US and Canada, but not in Mexico. In these cases, we know that a toxic substance was sent to recycling, but we do not know how it was managed once it crossed the border. How much of it was recycled, and how much ended as a release to the environment. Another important consideration is the toxicity of each of these substances. The substance transferred in the highest amounts is not always the most toxic. Mercury for example, was also transferred for recycling and disposal, but in lesser amounts.


  • 1. Tracking Pollutant Releases and Transfers in North America to Support Sustainability The North American PRTR Project TRI Conference, Washington, DC April 10-13, 2012
  • 2. Goals and Objectives: Enhanced access to and awareness of the sources, amounts and management of pollutants of concern across North America Increased comparability, quality and completeness of North American PRTR data, esp. for developing sector pollutant profiles NAPRTR data in support of decision-making at all levels (communities, industry, governments) for pollution prevention and reduction.Activities: Taking Stock Online: Integrated North American PRTR database and tools Taking Stock report: annual publication with analyses of PRTR data and North American health and environmental issues Tri-lateral collaboration on comparability in the areas of data reporting, collection, and quality assurance of PRTR data Outreach and development of relationships with stakeholder communities via Taking Stock, our annual public meeting, webinars.
  • 3. About 35,000 PRTR Reporting Facilities• Canada’s NPRI• US TRI• Mexico’s RETC
  • 4. Taking Stock: Report and Website
  • 5. Taking Stock Online Query Results: Releases to Water
  • 6. North American Watersheds and Facilities Reporting Releases to Water
  • 7. Taking Stock Online: Cross-Border Transfers
  • 8. Taking Stock Online and Sustainability• Gaining a better understanding of facilities’ pollutant releases and waste management practices• Comparing one facility’s releases to those of other facilities from the same company, or in the same sector across North America, and establishing benchmarking for pollution reductions• Verifying corporate environmental reports against reported PRTR information• Researching sustainable alternatives.
  • 9. Total reported:over 4.9 billion kg
  • 10. Releases to air: 542 million kg, 444 pollutants – 5 pollutants = 63% (hydrochloric acid = 25%) – US & Mexican fossil fuel power plants are major sourceReleases to water: 211 million kg, 257 pollutants – Nitrates and ammonia = 91%, contribute to nutrient loading and aquatic “dead zones” – Canadian municipal sewage treatment plants are major sourceReleases to land: 841 million kg, 214 pollutants – Zinc, lead, barium, copper, manganese and arsenic compounds = 87% – US metal ore mining facilities are a major sourceReleases to underground injection: 421 million kg, 151 pollutants AND releases to disposal: 733 million kg, 357 pollutants – Hydrogen sulfide and total reduced sulfur = approx. 75% – Canadian oil & gas extraction operations are a major source.
  • 11.  2.1 billion kg in off-site transfers were reported (80% ofthese to recycling) Almost 182 million kg were cross-border transfers, e.g.: – 80% of Canadian transfers to the US were sulfuric acid sent by petroleum and coal products manufacturers for recycling – US primary metal manufacturers transferred: • Over 4 million kg of lead compounds to Canada for recycling; • over 21 million kg of zinc compounds to Mexico for recycling (but zinc is not subject to Mexico’s RETC) – Mexico transferred over 6 million kg to US facilities, most of it 1,2-Dichloroethane sent by the chemical manufacturing sector for disposal.
  • 12. The NAPRTR Project: Progress on Activities  Taking Stock Online: – integration of three additional data years, 2009 data overview, enhanced tools (Released on March 15, 2012)  Taking Stock report: Feature Analysis of Changes in Pollutant Releases over Time (Fall 2012)  Trilateral Collaboration: Update of the Action Plan to Enhance the Comparability of PRTRs in North America  Outreach: Webinar on Taking Stock Online (Spring/summer 2012); and public meeting of the North American PRTR Project (Canada, Fall 2012)Commission for Environmental Cooperation
  • 13. For more information: Orlando Cabrera Rivera Program Manager, Air Quality/PRTR Telephone: (514) 350-4300 Fax: (514) 350-4314 Email: Three countries. One environment.