Pollution registers won’t cover toxins in waste

A meeting to establish an international treaty granting public access to pollution information is foundering. Failure to reach a common agreement will weaken the resulting pollution register and public right-to-know law.

According to campaign group Friends of the Earth, EU stubbornness at the UN Geneva meeting has infuriated other delegates who believe that the lack of co-operation will fail to produce a sturdy right-to-know law under the Aarhus Convention on public participation.

Delegates are working to produce a new protocol that will require countries to collect and publish information on quantities of pollutants released from industry, and eventually diffuse sources. The information will be compiled into Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers. Such registers already in use in the UK and US are believed to have helped drive down pollution levels.

EU countries are refusing to consider making information available on pollutants in waste, or in waste being sent for disposal, says FoE. This includes revealing the quantity of polluting heavy metals such as toxic cadmium or mercury in wastes, as suggested by Norway. The EU is also opposed to public access on toxic chemicals stored at facilities, while most countries are against the inclusion of nuclear facilities.

“Reporting pollutants is at the core of a right-to-know system,” says Friends of the Earth Pollution Researcher Mary Taylor. “Without requirements to report substances such as heavy metals in waste, the pollutant register being negotiated as part of this Treaty is becoming less and less valuable.”

FoE is also disappointed that the US has opted out of the negotiations on the grounds that the protocol does not adequately address essential elements such as public access to chemical information on transfers of wastes. The US’s Toxic Release Inventory has been praised by FoE as an effective information system. “The US departure has increased the likelihood that the new law will be a weak instrument, and has strengthened the EU countries’ hand,” says Taylor.

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