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Heavy metal emissions

Indicator Specification Created 19 Aug 2010 Published 15 Oct 2010 Last modified 27 Feb 2015, 02:51 PM

Justification for indicator selection

Heavy metals (such as cadmium, mercury and lead) are recognised as being directly toxic to biota. All heavy metals have the quality of being progressively accumulated higher up the food chain, such that chronic exposure of lower organisms to much lower concentrations can expose predatory organisms, including humans, to potentially harmful concentrations. They are also of concern for human health because of their toxicity, their potential to cause cancer and their ability to cause harmful effects at low concentrations. Their relative toxic/carcinogenic potencies are compound specific. Specifically, exposure to heavy metals has been linked with developmental retardation, various cancers, kidney damage, and even death in some instances of exposure to very high concentrations and those heavy metals that have these effects are already a focus of international and EU action. The major concern is centred on their possible role in carcinogenic, immunological and reproductive effects but more recently concern has also been expressed over their possible harmful effects on human development.

Scientific references:

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

  • This indicator tracks trends since 1990 in anthropogenic emissions of heavy metals.
  • The indicator also provides information on emissions by sector: energy production and distribution; energy use in industry; industrial processes; road transport; non-road transport; commercial, institutional and households; solvent and product use; agriculture; waste; other
  • Geographical coverage: EEA-32. The EEA-32 country grouping includes countries of the EU-27 (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom), the EFTA-4 (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Norway) and Turkey.
  • Temporal coverage: 1990-2010


Tonne (metric ton)

Policy context and targets

Context description

Coupled with improved control and abatement techniques, targeted international and EU legislation (directives and regulations) has led to good progress in most EEA-32 countries in reducing heavy metal emissions. Such legislation includes:

  • the 1998 Aarhus Protocol on Heavy Metals (to the 1979 UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)) targets three particularly harmful substances: cadmium, mercury and lead;
  • within the EU, the Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control  (96/61/EC) aims to prevent or minimise pollution of water, air and soil by industrial effluent and other waste from industrial installations, including energy industries, by defining basic obligations for operating licences or permits and by introducing targets, or benchmarks, for energy efficiency. It also requires the application of Best Available Techniques (BAT) in new installations from now on (and for existing plants over the next 10 years according to national legislation), which will help to reduce emissions of heavy metals and POPs. The IPPC Directive is presently under review, together with various related legislation, including the LCP and Waste Incineration directives. Emissions of a number of heavy metals released from certain industrial facilities are also estimated and reported under the requirements of the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register Regulation (E-PRTR) (166/2006/EC).
  • the Directive on the Limitation of Emissions of Certain Pollutants into the Air from Large Combustion Plants (2001/80/EC) - has acted to limit heavy metal emissions via dust control and absorption of heavy metals;
  • the CAFE Directive on Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air for Europe (2008/50/EC) has replaced the earlier Directive 96/62/EC on Ambient Air Quality Assessment and Management and three of its daughter directives 99/30/EC, 2000/69/EC, 2002/3/EC. Its fourth daughter directive (2004/107/EC) still remains in force and contains provisions and limit values for the further control of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, nickel and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient air.


There are also a number of specific EU environmental quality standards and emission standards for heavy metals and POPs for these substances in coastal and inland waters, drinking waters etc. These have only indirect relevance to air emissions as they do not directly specify emission or precipitation quality requirements, but rather specify the required quality of receiving waters. Such measures include, for example, the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC). Other measures include restrictions on the use of heavy metals in certain consumer products, such as the EC Regulation on the Banning of Exports of Metallic Mercury and Certain Mercury Compounds and Mixtures and the Safe Storage of Metallic Mercury (1102/2008), and Directive 2007/51/EC amending Council Directive 7/769/EEC relating to Restrictions on the Marketing of Certain Measuring Devices Containing Mercury.

A February 2009 UNEP Governing Council decision has established the framework for a new global treaty on mercury.



The HM protocol to the UNECE LRTAP Convention obliges Parties to reduce their emissions of cadmium, lead and mercury from the level of emissions in 1990 (or an alternative year from 1985 to 1995 inclusive)

Related policy documents

Key policy question

What progress is being made in reducing emissions of heavy metals?

Specific policy question

How do different sectors and processes contribute to emissions of heavy metals?


Methodology for indicator calculation

This indicator is based on officially reported national total and sectoral emissions to EEA and UNECE/EMEP (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe/Co-operative programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long-range transmission of air pollutants in Europe) Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP Convention), submission 2011. For the EU-27 Member States, the data used is consistent with the emissions data reported by the EU in its annual submission to the LRTAP Convention.

Recommended methodologies for emission inventory estimation are compiled in the EMEP/EEA Air Pollutant Emission Inventory Guidebook, (EMEP/EEA, 2009). Base data are available from the EEA Data Service ( and the EMEP web site ( Where necessary, gaps in reported data are filled by ETC/ACC using simple interpolation techniques (see below). The final gap-filled data used in this indicator is available from the EEA Data Service (

Base data, reported in the UNECE/EMEP Nomenclature for Reporting (NFR) sector format are aggregated into the following EEA sector codes to obtain a consistent reporting format across all countries and pollutants:


  • Energy production and distribution: emissions from public heat and electricity generation, oil refining, production of solid fuels, extraction and distribution of solid fossil fuels and geothermal energy;
  • Energy use in industry: emissions from combustion processes used in the manufacturing industry including boilers, gas turbines and stationary engines;
  • Industrial processes: emissions derived from non-combustion related processes such as the production of minerals, chemicals and metal production;
  • Road transport: light and heavy duty vehicles, passenger cars and motorcycles;
  • Non-road transport: railways, domestic shipping, certain aircraft movements, and non-road mobile machinery used in agriculture and forestry;
  • Commercial, institutional and households: emissions principally occurring from fuel combustion in the services and household sectors;
  • Solvent and product use: non-combustion related emissions mainly in the services and households sectors including activities such as paint application, dry-cleaning and other use of solvents;
  • Agriculture: manure management, fertiliser application, field-burning of agricultural wastes;
  • Waste: incineration, waste-water management; and
  • Other: emissions included in national total for entire territory not allocated to any other sector.


The following table shows the conversion of Nomenclature for Reporting (NFR) sector codes used for reporting by countries into EEA sector codes:

EEA classification

Non-GHGs (NFR)


National totals

National total


Energy production and distribution

1A1, 1A3e, 1B


Energy use in industry



Road Transport



Non-road transport (non-road mobile machinery)

1A3 (excl. 1A3b)


Industrial processes



Solvent and product use









Commercial, institutional and households

1A4ai, 1A4aii, 1A4bi, 1A4bii, 1A4ci, 1A4cii, 1A5a, 1A5b





Methodology for gap filling

An improved gap-filling methodology was implemented in 2010 that enables a complete time series trend for the main air pollutants (eg NOX, SOX, NMVOC, NH3 and CO) to be compiled. In cases where countries did not report emissions for any year, it meant that gap-filling could not be applied. For these pollutants, therefore, the aggregated data is not yet complete and is likely to underestimate true emissions. Further methodological details of the gap-filling procedure are provided in section 1.4.2 Data gaps and gap-filling of the European Union emission inventory report 1990–2009 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP).

Methodology references

Data specifications

EEA data references

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

The use of gap-filling when countries have not reported emissions for one or more years can potentially lead to artificial trends, but it is considered unavoidable if a comprehensive and comparable set of emissions data for European countries is required for policy analysis purposes.

Data sets uncertainty

The lead inventory is more uncertain than SO2 and NOX inventories, and the certainty of the emissions varies over the time-series as different source sectors dominate at different times due to the very significant reductions in emissions from the key sources in 1990, notably road transport. From the key sources in 1990, the lead emission estimates were based on measured concentrations of lead in the fuels, which were tightly regulated prior to being phased out in the late 1990s. This gives a high confidence in the estimates for those sources of fuel combustion, which dominated in the early 1990s, but are now much reduced. In the more recent years, the level of emissions is estimated to be very much lower, and derived from a smaller number of sources. The metal processing industries are mainly regulated under IPPC and hence the estimates provided by plant operators are based on emission measurements or emission factors that have been researched for the specific process type, and are, therefore, likely to be quite certain. The emissions from other smaller-scale combustion and process sources from industrial and commercial activities are less well documented and the estimates are based on emission factors that are less certain.

Rationale uncertainty

This indicator is regularly updated by the EEA and is used in state of the environment assessments. The uncertainties related to methodology and data sets are therefore of importance. Any uncertainties involved in the calculation and in the data sets need to be accurately communicated in the assessment, to prevent erroneous messages influencing policy actions or processes.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Martin Adams


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
APE 005
Version id: 2
Primary theme: Air pollution Air pollution


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Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year in October-December (Q4)


DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Performance indicator (Type B - Does it matter?)

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