The European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) ensures public access to information on pollutant releases to the environment from Europe’s largest facilities.
Updated E-PRTR data have recently been published by the EEA, including information on pollutant releases to the environment from some 33 000 facilities in Europe for the period 2007-2016. This briefing, based on updated E-PRTR data for 2016, presents information on heavy metal releases to air and water. It applies an eco-toxicity approach (USEtox model) to illustrate spatially the combined environmental pressures on Europe’s environment caused by releases of the selected pollutants.
This briefing focuses on reported releases to air and water of the following heavy metals: arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni) and zinc (Zn). Heavy metals are released by a range of industrial and other sources, but may also occur naturally in the environment. They can cause harmful effects in plants, animals and humans as a result of long-term or frequent exposure to high concentrations in air, water or soil. Such effects can range from the disruption of nutrient cycling in plants to effects on growth and reproduction in plants, animals and humans (see E-PRTR pollutant descriptions for more information). The EEA indicator Heavy metal emissions provides additional insights on emissions to air from Europe’s industrial facilities.
For eco-toxicity weighted aggregated releases to air, the resulting pressure on the environment is greatest from sources where either large-scale individual metal processing sites, power plants or clusters of facilities with relatively small individual releases are located. Prominent examples of such facilities can be seen on the map (Figure 1), including:
- AcelorMittal Poland in Dąbrowa Górnicza near Katowice, Poland (metal ore processing);
- Atlantic Copper, S.L.U. in Huelva, Spain (non-ferrous metal production);
- a cluster of facilities in Lünen near Dortmund, Germany (four power plants, and a metal production and processing facility);
- Norddeutsche Affinerie AG in Hamburg, Germany (non-ferrous metal production);
- a cluster of facilities around Glogow, Poland (multiple metal production and processing sites as well as underground mines); and
- Agios Dimitrios power plant near Ptolemaida, Greece.
Of the 978 facilities releasing heavy metals to air in 2016, just 18 were responsible for more than half of the associated environmental pressure, as estimated using the aggregated eco-toxicity approach. Since 2010, the total pressure because of heavy metal releases to air has decreased by 39 % and significantly fewer facilities have reported these substances than in previous years.
Applying the USEtox method to E-PRTR data further reveals (Figure 2) that metal production and processing combined were responsible for 59 % of environmental pressure in 2016. Heavy metals tend to be present in the combustion gases released from the heating/melting processes associated with these activities.
Thermal power stations were responsible for another 20 % of environmental pressure in 2016. Other contributing activities are underground mining operations, oil and gas refineries, and glass manufacturing and chemical production facilities…read more.