Using E-PRTR data on point source emissions to air and water—First steps towards a national chemical footprint

Sörme, L., Palm, V. and Finnveden, G. (2016). Environmental Impact Assessment Review, vol. 56: 102-112. DOI: 10.1016/j.eiar.2015.09.007

This paper by members of the PRINCE sub-project 4 team proposes a way of using data on point-source emissions from the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) to start constructing national hazardous chemical footprint indicators.

While the dangers of chemical pollution have long been known, or at least suspected, there is a great lack of indicators to monitor their use and potential impacts. This paper aims to develop and test an approach to calculate the potential environmental impacts of chemicals for a whole country, using the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) as a data source and Sweden as an example.

E-PRTR data on emissions to air and water for 54 substances from point sources in Sweden in 2008 was transformed and aggregated using USEtox, a life-cycle impact assessment (LCIA) method for calculating potential human toxicity and ecotoxicity. Calculations were made both from industrial emissions directly and for particular product categories, using input-output analysis.

The approach can be seen as the first step towards a country-level chemical footprint. To build a more complete picture, in line with other environmental footprints, data from other countries and other sources could be incorporated. Furthermore, diffuse emissions from, for example, transport or emissions of pesticides could also be added for a more holistic assessment. However, the area of chemical pollution is complicated – particularly due to the variety of chemicals, their management, and their impacts in different contexts – so it is probably necessary to develop and use several complementary indicators.

Selected findings for Sweden

  • Emissions of zinc to air and water contributed most to human toxicity in the chemical footprint of Sweden’s consumption, followed by emissions of mercury to air. The industrial sectors most responsible were metals, followed by the paper and paper products.
  • Emissions of zinc, fluoranthene and copper contributed most to potential ecotoxicity, with the paper and paper products industry followed by basic metals manufacturing most responsible.

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Read about the follow-up paper “Updated indicators of Swedish national human toxicity and ecotoxicity footprints using USEtox 2.01


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