You are here: Home / Data and maps / Indicators / Heavy metal emissions

Heavy metal emissions

Indicator Specification Created 19 Aug 2010 Published 15 Oct 2010 Last modified 18 Dec 2015, 04:55 PM
Indicator codes: APE 005

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)


Justification for indicator selection

Heavy metals (such as cadmium, mercury and lead) are recognised as being directly toxic to biota. All heavy metals are 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 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 metal/compound specific.

In particular, 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. Those heavy metals that cause 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

Indicator definition

  • This indicator tracks trends in anthropogenic emissions of heavy metals since 1990.
  • 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; others.
  • Geographical coverage: EEA-33. The EEA-33 country grouping includes countries of the EU-28 (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, 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.
  • The temporal coverage is 1990-2013.


The unit used in this indicator is the tonne (metric ton).

Policy context and targets

Context description

Coupled with improved control and abatement techniques, targeted international and EU legislation has led to good progress in most EEA-33 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.
  • the EU Directive 2001/80/EC on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants (LCP Directive) aims to limit heavy metal emissions via dust control and absorption of heavy metals.
  • the EU Directive 2010/75/EU on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) (EU, 2010) aims to prevent or minimise pollution of water, air and soil. The directive targets certain industrial, agricultural, and waste treatment installations.
  • 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 EU Directive on Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air for Europe (2008/50/EC) and the directive 2004/107/EC relating to heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient air contain provisions, and target and limit values for the further control of air pollutants in ambient air.


There are also a number of specific EU environmental quality and emissions standards for heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (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.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury - a global, legally binding treaty was agreed by governments in January 2013 and formally adopted as international law on 10 October 2013.


The heavy metals protocol to the UNECE LRTAP Convention obliges Parties to reduce their emissions of cadmium, lead and mercury from 1990 emissions level (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 national total and sectoral emissions officially reported to the 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 emissions inventory estimations are compiled in the EMEP/EEA Air Pollutant Emission Inventory Guidebook, (EMEP/EEA, 2013). Base data is 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 the national total for the 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-greenhouse gases (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

2D3a, 2D3b, 2D3e, 2D3f, 2D3g, 2D3h, 2D3i, 2G








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. 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

  • No datasets have been specified here.

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

The use of gap-filling for countries that 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. This is because 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 emissions 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 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 the IPPC and hence the estimates provided by plant operators are based on emissions measurements or emissions factors that have been researched for the specific process type, and are, therefore, likely to be quite certain. Emissions from other smaller-scale combustion and process sources from industrial and commercial activities are less well documented, and the estimates are based on emissions 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, in order 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

Anke Luekewille


European Environment Agency (EEA)


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


Permalink to this version
Permalink to latest version

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year


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

Related content

Data used

Latest figures and vizualizations

Relevant policy documents

Sign up to receive our reports (print and/or electronic) and quarterly e-newsletter.
Follow us
Log in

Forgot your password?
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100