Air pollution up in Europe as water discharges fall

A pan-European database which logs the emissions of some 12,000 industrial facilities shows that, despite legislative measures to tackle the problem, overall pollution increased between 2001 and 2004.

The European Pollutant Emission Register is an online database set up to record emissions across a wide range of industries.

The latest figures, from 2004, were published this week and show that despite Europe’s self-appointed role as an environmental leader, there has been a surge in air pollution, though efforts to reduce water pollution have met with some success.

Carbon dioxide was up 9% over the three year period, while nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas, rose by 8.5%.

The EU and European Environment Agency (EEA) are putting a brave face on what could be interpreted as disappointing figures, saying the apparent increases are due in part to better recording techniques and the fact that, for the first time, the statistics now take into account emissions from all 25 member states rather than the original 15.

Data will be analysed by the Commission to see if new or modified emissions policy measures are needed.

Emissions of air pollutants such as hydrogen cyanide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons rose by 79% and 53% respectively.

Water pollutants such as cyanides, phenols and mercury increased by 69%, 35%, and 52%. According to the Commission such large increases may be real but could also be the result of more complete reporting in 2004.

The silver lining is that there were some improvements in discharges of pollutants to water and even for one or two gases.

There were decreases in organic pollutants (-11%), phosphorus (-16%) and nitrogen (-14%), possibly because an increasing number of waste water treatment plants are being fitted with more efficient equipment.

Reductions in air pollutants such as sulphur oxides (-11%) are the results of on-going efforts to switch fuels and to cut down the sulphur content of waste gases.

Of the 58 most polluting facilities, 43 are in the old EU15 while the remaining 15 are in the ten new member states.

The metal processing industry was the worst offender, responsible for 21 of these facilities, followed by the chemicals industry (13), energy sector (9), waste management sector (6), food processing industry (4) and paper making and pulping plants (2).

While the results may not suggest a huge victory for the environment, they do, according to regulators, represent a great stride forward in transparency and accountability.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “The EU emissions register is a valuable tool that allows all European citizens to analyse the polluting activities of industry. This second EPER report will enable policy-makers to evaluate pollution trends as a basis for future decisions on pollution prevention and control.”

Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the European Environment Agency, said: “In today’s Europe the public play an increasingly important role in environmental decision-making at a personal, local and national level.

“The EEA is working for access to environmental information for everyone so that they are better able to fulfil this important role. EPER is a stepping-stone in the right direction.”

Sam Bond

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