NGO spotlights top UK carcinogen-emitting firms

Interactive website launched linking company emissions with local postcodes

A UK environmental group has called for a steep reduction in releases of hazardous substances, and backed up its demand by publishing on the internet a league-table of the "top 97" carcinogen-emitting industrial installations in England and Wales.

The call by Friends of the Earth (FoE) to "reduce the amount of hazardous substances released to air, water and land by 80% by 2005" was accompanied by presentation to the UK parliament of a "community right to know" bill which would require provision of more information about local pollution sources.

Believed by the group to be the first of its kind in Europe, the website is based on the publicly available national chemicals release inventory maintained by the Environment Agency of England and Wales. Unlike the official statistics, Factory Watch lists only emissions of known or suspected carcinogens, and enables web users to identify pollution and polluters in their local areas.

Visitors to the "Factory Watch" site can use their home postal codes to retrieve information from the database by location, company or pollutant. The basic information is already publicly available, but the group claims it is "virtually impossible for people to access or understand."

Top of FoE's polluters list comes Associated Octel, which produces well over one-third of the total emissions of carcinogens for England and Wales, with ICI occupying three of the next five places.

The Environment Agency welcomed the group's move, but stressed that newer data had revealed marked improvements at certain sites on the list. It also pointed out that FoE's figures were not weighted to take account of the toxicity of individual pollutants. The group acknowledges this shortcoming in its analysis and plans to incorporate weighting into future tables. The agency also said it would publish a similarly searchable "inventory of sources and releases" on the internet in late spring.

Meanwhile, FoE stresses that the both its and the agency's planned databases only deal with about 40% of carcinogen emissions from industrial installations. The remainder are governed by local authorities and not available on the CRI. FoE said its proposed legislation would provide for the comprehensive publishing of all emissions, along with data on waste disposal and emissions from "diffuse sources" such as transport and agriculture.

The move comes as European countries debate the form of the "polluting emissions register" envisaged by the EU's integrated pollution prevention and control directive, which must be implemented in member states by October this year.

Follow Up:
Friends of the Earth England, Wales & Northern Ireland, tel: +44 171 490 1555; Environment Agency of England and Wales, tel: +44 1454 624 400. References: FoE Factory Watch.

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