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What does it mean PRTR?


Motto: "Everybody has the right to be fully informed in time about our environment and natural sources (section 35, paragraph 2, Civil Rights Bill ).

Our health is endangered by thousands of chemical substances. Beside so-called conventional pollutants as sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides or fly-ash there exist a lot of substances which are not so attractive for the media nowadays (e.g. heavy metals, pesticides, industrial releases,...).

We can't say that these substances affect our health very little. Many diseases are caused by the presence of these substances in the environment (e.g. the disease iusho is developed due to PCB intoxication).

For this reason it is necessary to know the danger of these "unconventional pollutants". The danger is that they increase the global contamination of the environment. One of the main objectives which was worldwide accredited in the UNO within the framework of the Agenda 21 is the general acquaintance with the condition, development of the environment and with pollutants as such. The Agenda 21 is the document which was passed at the environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro.

One step which can help to fulfil this aim is the so-called PRTR ( Pollutant Release and Transfer Register ). Note: Transfers of waste are defined as a special category of pollutant releases from enterprises. Information like this can give us a complex view of firms and their ecological policy. They complete the standard view of emissions ( water-pollution, air-pollution and tips ).

Our summary "PRTR worldwide" gives a basic information of PRTR systems which already exist or those which are being prepared. This summary is useful especially for people interested in the right to information about environment and in the informative tools of the ecological policy. The abbreviation PRTR became very familiar for lots of people dealing with the management of toxic and dangerous substances. Especially governmental officers, management of firms and people living near by industrial zones are in contact with a PRTR very often.

Simply we can say that essential for function of a PRTR system is the regular collecting of pollutant releases and waste transfers reports. These reports are given by pollutants ( usually by firms ) and they are processed into summaries. Summaries are spread among users regularly. Building of the PRTR system is a result of long-termed course of the environmental policy. In short we can call this course "from restriction to participation". While restrictive interventions dominated the ecological policy of 60`s ( these interventions ordered pollutants what to do in environmental protection through acts ) and the following period brought methods of indirect state interventions ( e.g. monetary and fiscal instruments ), the PRTR could be classed within the group of informative ecopolitical instruments.

The basic meaning of information systems is that if people know the degree and source of pollution they are able to discuss the reduction of pollutant releases or various reparations for the environment damage directly with contaminators. The effectivenes of PRTR systems manifests in different spheres ( e.g. PRTR supports the introduction of the so-called clean technologies, creates new space for consulting firms, strengthens the so-called environmental supervision - either by state or by non-governmental organizations ).

2. Theoretically

2.1. Charcteristics of a Good PRTR System

Because the amount of accessible literature of basic conditions for effective function of a PRTR system is limited in the Czech Republic we bring a short description of this system. The book called "The Right to Information of Chemicals" deals with the topic of a PRTR theory ( you can find it at the Internet ). And now let's point out the main attributes of a PRTR system:

  • Single chemical substances or small groups of them should be followed.

    Aggregated data of more heterogeneous substances have only a small informative value. Example: You could have heard a term "the total amount of organic substances". This term can hardly express how this amount affects our health. To organic substances belong both alcanes with almost no effects on health ( in small concentrations ) and extremely poisonous polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxines ( PCDD ). 1 gram of propane affects our health very little while 1 gram of PCDD is a lethal dose.

  • Data must be collected for single enterprises.

    If the PRTR shall serve as pollution prevention, public and public management ( main subjects which make efforts to minimize all pollutant releases ) should have an access to the data from every single enterprise. Even the data from the whole company need not be sufficient because the company as such can have more branches ( e.g. in Nebraska and in Texas ). If citizens are given the information of one single factory only they can come and discuss with the boss reparations for not acceptable releases of hexachlorohexane. Example: According to the Czech Act of Waste ( number 125/1997 of the Czech law book ) and its executive precepts, the amount and kind of waste produced by individual economical subjects is followed. But data of single substances amount in waste are not accessible for public. Contaminators don't count them at all.

  • Releases into all media must be followed.

    This condition prevents firms from reducing releases into one medium only by changing the aim of release to another medium. Example: By collecting fluid waste in the sewage farm this waste doesn't disappear. It only changes to solid waste and a part of it outflows to the atmosphere.

  • The same structure of data is necessary

    for comparability in different enterprises, geographical regions or various substances. The mutual comparability and possibility of data addition enables us to follow the environmental behavior of a company and to assess the level of pollution in a region quite exactly. It can also help to find the worst contaminators ( as it happens in the USA ). Example: You can imagine the usefulness of data structured in different ways. For example compare the influence on the environment in two neighbor firms if one of these firms reports its water-pollution in tons and the other one in units of the chemical oxygen consumption ( it presents the necessary amount of oxygen for dissolving pollutants ).

  • The structure of reports has to be fixed

    to enable computer processing, analysis and electronical output. This condition seems to be obvious but especially systems based on voluntary reports or on data compilation from more registers head problems with data compatibility.

  • Only a limited part of PRTR data subdues to the trade secret.

    General data protection makes collected data inaccessible for public and it is expensive for the national budget. Example: In the Czech Republic the trade secret is defined as "all company's realities of trade, production or technical character which have real or at least potential material or non-material value and which are not usually accessible in the business circles should be protected"(according to paragraph 17, the trades code, 513/1991 Act Collection ). But this definition is too wide for the PRTR system. According to the Czech system REZZO ( the register of air-pollutant sources) all pollutants are allowed to call certain datum a subject of the trade secret even with no reason. The wide definition of the trade secret the is balanced by the act of access to information in some countries, e.g. in Canada. This act can cancel the secret of an information. And in some other codes the term "the trade secret" is defined more strictly.

  • The data which can't be concealed must be well defined.

    Realization of this requirement promises at least partial efficacy of the PRTR. Example: You can't keep all pollutant releases information secret in the USA. It is possible to conceal the name of a substance or the exact amount of releases. But public must be given information which enables e.g. the assessment of health risks. It means that a firm can use the term "not more than 120 tons of aromatic carcinogenic hydrocarbons" instead of " 100 tons of benzene".

  • Everybody has the right to information

    ; data must be actively spread to public. The word "actively" is very important . It is not sufficient if data are stored in one copy at the office. People must be taught to use data directly. Spreading the data actively is conditioned by the understanding that the price of printing one million of annual summaries for public is only a small part of expenses for reducing emissions to the lowest level through classical means of the ecological policy.

    2.2. Ways of PRTR Establishment

    We can distinguish 3 ways of creating PRTR systems in praxis. The first way is to start a new system from the very beginning. These systems meet all basic requirements of a good PRTR system very often. The reconstruction of already built particular registers is the second way to prepare a PRTR system. But this system doesn't meet all requirements especially during the reconstruction period ( it could take even 10 years ); and it is burdened with other functions which decreases its efficacy ( e.g. time for data processing is too long because it is necessary to verify all data more preciously than in the "pure PRTR system" ). Another problem for successful reconstruction is that the old registers are created for penalizing or other repression which is in contrary with the basic philosophy of just informative PRTR systems. Because of this the Dutch system EIS ( Emission Inventory System ) belongs to PRTR systems in spite of the fact that it was created by rebuilding other registers gradually and even its name is not similar to the PRTR at all. The last group of PRTR systems consists of registers which were constructed for another reason but they fulfil or can partly cover ( even unconsciously ) the functions of a PRTR. In this case it is important to compare an ideal model of the PRTR system with reality. Otherwise we could get confused very easily. E.g. in the Czech Republic there exists the REZZO system ( the register of air-pollutant sources ) which is very similar to the PRTR system but lacks the basic function, i.e. the public accessible data.

    Plzeňská ekologická nadace
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    © Plzeňská ekologická nadace, Miroslav Šuta
    7. července 1998