The UK chemical industry reports improved environmental performance

The tenth Responsible Care survey on health, safety and environmental performance, conducted by the Chemical Industries Association (CIA), shows that the UK chemical industry continued to improve its environmental and energy efficiency performances in 1999.

The CIA is the UK chemical industry’s leading trade and employer organisation, embracing all of the industry’s trade sectors, and comprising 75% of chemical manufacturing capital, along with 60% of the industry’s workforce. Ninety five percent of CIA’s manufacturing sites were included in this survey.

Discharges of Red List substances, which include mercury and its compounds, and carbon tetrachloride, have been reduced by more than 96% compared to 1990 levels, to 14 tonnes. The CIA has also asked sites to begin reporting discharges of phosphorus and nitrogen into water systems, which cause eutrophication, as well as substances which create chemical oxygen demand (COD), thus using up oxygen. Ten percent of sites reported discharging phosphorus, 28% reported nitrogen compounds, and 69%, compounds which create COD. Next year, reporting will also begin on discharges of eight key heavy metals.

Emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which react with other pollutants in the lower atmosphere to produce ground level ozone in the presence of heat and sunlight, have fallen by 46% since 1995, according to CIA. At ground level, ozone may accumulate locally, creating photochemical smog in concentrations which are harmful to health. In the future, trends in emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides will also be reported.

Production of special waste, defined by CIA as waste that is either hazardous or difficult to dispose of, fell in 1999 fell by 20% of 1998 levels. The CIA is awaiting a third year’s data to see whether this becomes a trend.

Data for water consumption were also included for the first time in the report. In England and Wales, it is estimated that companies within the CIA account for just over one percent of the total demand for public water supplies, and just over one percent of abstractions from surface and ground water. Intake from the sea accounts for around eight percent of estimated abstractions from tidal waters.

According to the study, last year saw a two percent improvement in energy efficiency, contributing to the 16.7% improvement since 1990, and, says the CIA, this puts the industry on track to deliver its voluntary deal with the Government of a 20% improvement by 2005. This has partly been achieved in recent years by the installation of on-site or adjacent combined heat and power generators.

The number of incidents arising from the transport of chemicals by road fell from 85 in 1998 to 64 in 1999. There is still a need for an improvement in the reporting of incidents from contract hauliers, says CIA.

One of the key commitments of the Responsible Care study is to maintaining open and honest communication between companies and individuals, including complaints procedures, active links with local communities, and environmental reports. According to the CIA, a high level of manufacturing sites have such procedures in place, ensuring a thorough investigation of all complaints and a report back to the people concerned.

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