North American Toxics Data Released

June 24, 2009

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation, which is a joint effort of Canada, the US, and Mexico, released its annual report on toxics releases and transfers in the three countries on June 10, 2009. The authors say this is the best available information that tracks and compares the toxic emissions of the three countries. This is the 12th such report, but just the second to include data for Mexico.

Among the findings (based on 2005 data, the latest available for all 3countries):

  • The petroleum industry accounts for a full 1/4 of all toxics in North America, and about 12% of all criteria air pollutants.
  • Other leading pollution sources are the mining, metals, wastewater treatment, electric utility, and chemical manufacturing industries.
  • About 90% of all toxics come from just 15 industries, and just 30 substances account for about 90% of all toxics. The toxics include known or suspected carcinogens, developmental or reproductive disruptors, and persistent, bioaccumulative substances.

The data highlights the fact that efforts to reduce energy consumption from petroleum use and coal-fired power plants in order to address climate change could also result in major toxics reductions from some of the leading industrial sources in North America (e.g., petroleum, mining, and electric utility). In addition, the report includes some information on greenhouse gas emissions.

The new data for about 35,000 facilities is searchable by many criteria, such as location, type of substance, facility, and whether it's a release or transfer (with big differences among the three countries in the percentages transferred in some way, such as recycling, versus being released to air, water, or underground). Along with gleaning data, you can generate your own maps.

The report, while the best effort yet, still has a number of weaknesses, such as variable data requirements and collection methods in the three countries, and gaps in data within and between countries.