To achieve the public participation objective set by the Aarhus Convention, people first need to know what is happening to their environment and what is at stake. With this new register, we take an important step in placing more environmental information at their fingertips. Anyone can now see how much pollution is being released to air and water from facilities in their neighbourhood or region.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "Transparency is a vital tool for improving our environment. I welcome the opening of this register. It demonstrates a genuine commitment by the public authorities and industry to share information with citizens and increase openness. I thank them for their cooperation."
Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, said: "To achieve the public participation objective set by the Aarhus Convention, people first need to know what is happening to their environment and what is at stake. With this new register, we take an important step in placing more environmental information at their fingertips. Anyone can now see how much pollution is being released to air and water from facilities in their neighbourhood or region."
What does the register cover?
In order to improve public access to environmental information, a new E-PRTR register has been set up, containing data reported by individual facilities.
It provides details for 2007 of pollutants released from specific facilities to air, water and land. Its scope covers for instance 30 % of total NOx (nitrogen oxides) emissions (i.e. most emissions from sources other than transport), and 76 % of total SOx (sulphur oxides) emissions to air in the EU-27 countries and Norway. The register also shows the amount of waste and waste water transferred to other locations, including transboundary transfers of hazardous waste, and gives preliminary information on pollutants from 'diffuse' sources released to water, such as nitrogen and phosphorus loss from agriculture.
The website has a powerful search engine that allows visitors to search using one or more criteria and a map tool. For example, visitors can search the amount of hazardous and non-hazardous waste transferred from facilities in a country (waste search), or releases from a specific industrial site by name or location (facility search).
What kind of information can be obtained?
E-PRTR reveals, for example, that:
- Often a small number of facilities make large overall contributions to the total amount of pollutants released in Europe. For instance, just five large combustion plants were collectively responsible for more than 20 % of all E-PRTR sulphur oxide emissions to air in 2007. Sulphur oxides contribute to both environmental acidification and the formation of health-damaging particulate matter.
- More than 54 million tonnes of hazardous waste were transferred from E-PRTR facilities. Most hazardous waste is recovered or disposed of within the country where it originates; just a small fraction of it (approximately 6 %) is transported across borders.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the 'Aarhus Convention') grants the public rights to access environmental information.
In 2003, parties to the Aarhus Convention adopted the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTR), which entered into force on 8 October 2009. The European Community is a signatory to the Protocol and has passed a Regulation (EC No 166/2006) to implement it. The Regulation defines minimum levels of activity and pollution above which information must be reported. It also goes beyond the PRTR Protocol by requiring Member States to report information on an additional five pollutants and imposing more stringent reporting thresholds for another six.
From 2010 onwards, the information in E-PRTR will be updated in April each year. In addition to the 27 Member States of the European Union, it also includes data from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The website, including the information on diffuse source releases, will gradually be improved in coming months.
The former European pollutant register EPER covered 50 pollutants released to air and water from 56 industrial activities in 12 000 facilities in 26 countries (EU-25 and Norway). EPER required countries to report only every third year and included information from just two reporting years — 2001 and 2004.