Releases of pollutants into the air, water and land are threatening public health and well-being, while undermining the Earth’s fragile environment. Over the past few decades, Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers, known for short as PRTRs, have emerged as an important new tool in the field of chemicals management.
PRTRs are registers containing information on the releases, emissions, from facilities into the environment, and transfers to other facilities, of a defined set of pollutants. The information contained in a PRTR is generated through periodic reporting, usually on annual and mandatory basis, by the facilities responsible for the activities causing the releases and transfers.
The PRTR website must be user-friendly and accessible to the public via internet. Data should be organized and searchable per individual facility, owner/operator, type of pollutant, type of activity and environmental medium (air, water, land).
A PRTR system comprises three essential elements: a structured database; an information exchange network to enter and publish data; and a dissemination mechanism to convert this data into information (such as PRTR or emission reports) and make it public. A PRTR comprises data from point sources of pollution, such as industrial facilities as well as may also include data from diffuse sources, such as open burnings from agricultural operations and waste management, transportation and other human activities.
The idea of establishing a pollutant release and transfer register first emerged in the United States, following the tragic accident in Bhopal (India) in 1984. Shortly thereafter, the United States Congress approved the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, establishing a register called the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which tracks releases to all media (air, water and land) and off-site transfers of more than 600 chemicals. Other countries, including Australia and Canada, followed in developing national PRTR systems. TRI provided unprecedented public information on pollution releases. It also created a powerful incentive for reporting facilities to take voluntary measures to reduce pollution.
Although a PRTR does not directly regulate emissions, it raises awareness about major sources of threat to health and the environment by brining information on polluting emissions into public domain, and enable people to play a more effective role in influencing the related decision-making processes. The resulting increase in transparency can create pressure on companies to reduce the pollution burden arising from their activities and avoid being identified as major polluters.
The Kiev Protocol (entered into force in 2009), is the first legally binding international instrument on PRTRs. The Protocol assist countries to establish PRTRs that are publicly accessible and maintained through mandatory reporting of a wide range of harmful and potentially harmful substances from certain significant activities. The Protocol covers 64 activities and 86 substances and categories of substances.
The map below shows the current operational PRTR systems aorund the world and which countries are in the process of implementation or pilot testing the register.