European citizens will be able to find out what dangerous substances are emitted in their neighbourhoods under an environmental treaty to go into effect in 17 countries in October, the United Nations said on Friday.
Participating states will have to issue public inventories of major pollutants that their industries, traffic, agriculture and enterprises spew into the air, soil and water, including greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Some 86 categories of substances — ranging from mercury and other heavy metals, benzine, asbestos, pesticides including DDT, and dioxins — are covered under the pact.
“These inventories are made available to the public over the Internet and generally also through a downloadable map that helps people identify major pollutants that are travelling through their neighbourhoods to discover what is in their backyard …,” Michael Stanley-Jones, an environmental expert at the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), told reporters.
“It doesn’t cover all chemicals, but it does cover the major releases of chemicals,” he said.
The pact, signed in 2003 by 36 countries, enters into force on Oct. 8 after being ratified recently by a 17th country (France), according to the Geneva-based agency. It is open to all U.N. member states for ratification.
“It is truly a global instrument, part of a global movement initiated in the 1980s after the major accidents in Bhopal and Chernobyl,” said Stanley-Jones.
A catastrophic industrial accident in central India killed nearly 8,000 people in 1984 when tonnes of toxic gas leaked from a pesticide plant of Union Carbide, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co (DOW.N), the largest U.S. chemical maker.
The Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986, the world’s worst civil nuclear accident, sent radiation over most of Europe.
The protocol to the 2001 Aarhus Convention enables citizens to voice concern over pollution to industry or regulators.
“As the major greenhouse gas pollutants are included in the protocol, this will give decision-makers and the public powerful new tools for identifying the major industrial sources of greenhouse gas emissions,” Stanley-Jones said.
“Major exceptions are for national security (facilities) and also the nuclear industry — radioactive substances are not covered by the protocol,” he said, noting that countries may add further substances and facilities to their national registers.
Countries outside of Europe, including Chile and Mexico, have developed their own registers and China’s industrial region of Shanghai is also drawing one up, according to the expert.
The 17 states that have ratified the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers are: Albania, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland. The European Commission is also a party.