Analysis Reveals Major Changes in How Pollutants are Handled

May 31, 2002
A new report reveals that factories, electric utilities, hazardous waste management facilities and coal mines in Canada and the United States generated almost 3.4 million tons of toxic chemical waste in 1999.

The annual "Taking Stock" report was released this week by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) of North America, a Montreal-based environmental body established by the NAFTA partners.

This year, the study also presents the first five-year analysis of pollution releases and management. The five-year trend shows a slight decline (3 percent) in the total of toxic chemicals generated, but big changes in how those pollutants are handled. The North American manufacturing sector's 25 percent reduction in releases to air was largely offset by a 25 percent increase in on-site releases to land, and a 35 percent increase in off-site releases, mostly to landfills. Releases to lakes, rivers and streams also increased during this period by 26 percent.

"'Out of the air, into the land and water' emerges as a major trend from our five-year analysis," says CEC Executive Director Janine Ferretti. "North America's progress in reducing toxic releases to air must continue, but it also must be matched by reductions in land and water releases."

Other findings in the report include:

  • Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and Ontario recorded the largest total releases.
  • Total releases for 1999 include 269,000 tons of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive problems.
  • Electrical utilities report the largest total releases in North America - over 450,000 tons.

"Taking Stock" is produced from data collected by the national governments of Canada and the United States. Reporting of data for Mexico is not yet mandatory, though enabling legislation was passed in Mexico late last year. The CEC report praises the 117 Mexican facilities that reported 1999 data voluntarily.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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