Industrial Water Pollution Rises 26
June 4, 2002
pollution dumped into U.S. and Canadian lakes, rivers
and streams rose 26 percent from 1995 to 1999, overshadowing
an almost equal reduction in toxic air emissions, the
environmental watchdog agency for the North American Free
Trade Agreement reported on Wednesday.
ITS annual study on pollution in Canada and the United
States, the North American Commission for Environmental
Cooperation said the total amount of toxic releases and
transfers fell 3 percent during the five-year period.
That modest decline was aided
by the manufacturing sectors 25 percent reduction
in air emissions, the commission said.
But the reduced amount of pollution
spewed into the air was offset by a 25 percent jump in
onsite releases to land, a 35 percent surge in offsite
releases mainly to landfills and the 26
percent rise in pollution poured into surface water.
Janine Ferretti, executive
director of the commission, said that amounted to an out
of the air, into the water and land trend during
the five years. In effect, it is almost as though
we are running in place here, she told Reuters.
report, entitled Taking Stock, is the sixth
straight study by the commission and for the first time
provides a five-year snapshot of North American releases
and transfers of chemicals. Industries are required to
report pollution releases and transfers in Canada and
the United States, but that is not yet mandatory in Mexico.
More detailed data and the expected inclusion of Mexican
pollution reporting in the next two to three years will
provide a better picture of industrial waste trends, Ferretti
The report examined waste data
on 210 chemicals including those that deplete
the protective ozone layer in the Earths atmosphere
from 21,500 facilities in the United States and
Canada. In Mexico, 117 facilities voluntarily reported
The report notes worrisome
trends in the pollution pattern from North American industry.
Almost 3.4 million metric tons of toxic chemical waste
was produced in 1999, roughly 1 million of that released
on-site into the air. Almost 8 percent of total releases
included chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects
or other reproductive problems.
Ferretti said she is concerned
that the Great Lakes region appears to feature too prominently
in producing pollution.
As in 1998, the top polluting
jurisdictions included the American states of Texas, Ohio,
Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana, as well as Ontario,
Canadas most populated province. Ranked by chemical
loadings, the amounts released, transferred
for disposal or brought in for that purpose, the biggest
polluters were Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and Ontario.
In 1999, only four industries
primary metals, chemical manufacturing, electrical
utilities and hazardous waste management accounted
for almost two-thirds of total releases and transfers.
Almost one-third of total releases
were metals such as lead, chromium and nickel and their
compounds, largely produced by steel, aluminum and other
One of the significant
sectors that is kind of throwing progress into question
is the primary metals sector, Ferretti said.
Electrical utilities, which
began reporting data for the study only in 1998, were
again the biggest polluters, releasing more than 450,000
tons of toxic materials in 1999.
Just 15 of the 21,500 industrial
facilities reporting, or less than 0.1 percent, accounted
for 7 percent of the waste produced. The top 15 included
Magnesium Corp. of America in Utah, Grupo Mexico unit
Asarco Inc. in Arizona and Montana, AK Steel in Pennsylvania,
and the lone Canadian entry, Safety-Kleen Ltd. in Ontario.
The study did not examine greenhouse
gas emissions, which are targeted for reduction under
the Kyoto climate change protocol. The U.S. government
has refused to sign the pact and Canada appears to be
wavering, as energy producers and business groups say
the measures would damage the economy.
Ferretti said the commissions
annual study is gathering more detailed information as
reporting thresholds for certain chemicals are lowered.
Canadian and U.S. releases of the cancer-causing chemical
dioxin will be included in the 2000 report.
The real work begins now
in terms of having jurisdictions, industry, governments
and citizen groups do some analysis of why are we seeing
these trends, what is their relevance and what can be done
to improve the situation, she said.
The full report is online at