Electricity utilities contribute 25% of industrial pollution

A study by the Montreal-based North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has revealed that 25% of the industrial pollution reported in North America in 1998 came from the electricity utilities.

Included for the first time in CEC’s annual Taking Stock analysis of 165 chemical pollutants discharged in the US and Canada, electricity producers ranked number one for on-site and off-site pollution releases, followed by the primary metals sector, the chemical industry and hazardous waste management sectors – another newly-added industry sector.

Some 77% of the total pollution released by the electricity sector comprised a mix of hydrochloric and sulphuric acid, released into the air. Of the guilty companies, coal and oil burning power stations were responsible for over 25% of all releases, both on and off site, reported to the federal authorities in the US and Canada. This amounts to some 436,000 tonnes of chemicals in total.

Looking at air pollution alone, 43% of all reported industrial pollution came from the electricity utilities.

All types of industrial facilities in North America together released over 1.6 million tonnes of chemicals in 1998. Carcinogens comprised about 15% of the total amount released on and off-site; much of which – 84,286 tonnes, or 34% – was released to the air.

Five states – Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ontario and Indiana – accounted for over 30% of all the polluting releases in the US in 1998.

Broken down into pollution types, Ohio was responsible for the most on-site air emissions, on-site land discharges and off-site transfers for recycling. Texas was home to the largest on-site underground injection programme, and Ontario had the largest off-site releases. Michigan had the largest off-site transfers of polluting wastes for energy recovery, and Indiana was responsible for the second largest number of off-site transfers for recycling.

However, the report does show a year-on-year improvement in the figures. Over the four years of the report’s existence, there has been a 4% decrease in the amount of pollutants released on and off-site. This equates to a drop of over 49,000 tonnes. However, there has been a 35% increase in off-site releases and an 11% increase in off-site transfers to treatment.

“The downward trend in on-site releases from 1995 through 1998 certainly is encouraging,” said CEC executive director Janine Ferretti. “At the same time, the increases in releases and transfers off-site are of concern. The data from 1998 suggest that these increases may have peaked, but it’s too soon to say if this represents a trend.”

Data has not so far been available for Mexico, but the Mexican Government announced last month that it intends to put forward a bill proposing mandatory reporting. This move will make it possible for CEC to compare data for all three North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) countries.

The data collected by the US and Canada does not include all chemicals, or sources of pollution such as dry cleaners, petrol stations and vehicles. Also not covered, due to differences in the US and Canadian reporting systems, are releases from the metals mining sector.

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