Heavy metal (HM) emissions (APE 005) - Assessment published Oct 2010
Air pollution (Primary topic)
Typology: Performance indicator (Type B - Does it matter?)
- APE 005
Key policy question: What progress is being made in reducing emissions of heavy metals?
- Across the EEA-32 countries, emissions of lead have decreased by 90%, mercury by 61% and lead by cadmium by 58% between 1990 and 2008. For each substance, the most significant sources in 2008 are from energy-related sources associated with fuel combustion, particularly from public power and heat generating facilities and in industrial facilities.
- Much progress has been made since the early 1990s in reducing point source emissions of cadmium and lead (e.g. emissions from industrial facilities). This has been achieved through improvements in for example abatement technologies for wastewater treatment, incinerators and in metal refining and smelting industries, and in some countries by the closure of older industrial facilities as a consequence of economic re-structuring.
- In the case of mercury, the observed decrease in emissions may be largely attributed to improved controls on mercury cells used in industrial processes (e.g. in the chlor-alkali process) including the replacement of old mercury cells by diaphragm or membrane cells, and the general decline of coal use across Europe as a result of fuel switching.
- The promotion of unleaded petrol within the EU and in other EEA member countries through a combination of fiscal and regulatory measures has been a particular success story. EU Member States have for example completely phased out the use of leaded petrol, a goal that was regulated by Directive 98/70/EC. From being the largest source of lead in 1990 when it contributed around 75% of total emissions, emissions from the road transport sector decreased since then by nearly 99%. Nevertheless, the road transport sector still remains an important source of lead, contributing around 8% of total lead emission in the EEA-32 region. However since 2002 little progress has been made in reducing emissions further; total emissions of lead have remained largely constant.
- Environmental context: Heavy metals (such as cadmium, lead and mercury) are recognised as being toxic to biota. All 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. In humans they are also of direct concern because of their toxicity, their potential to cause cancer and their potential ability to cause harmful effects at low concentrations. The relative toxic/carcinogenic potencies of heavy metals are compound specific. Specifically, exposure to heavy metals has been linked with developmental retardation, various cancers and kidney damage. Metals are persistent throughout the environment, and cadmium, lead and mercury are among those heavy metals that are already a focus of international and EU action. These substances tend not just to be confined to a given geographical region, and thus are not always open to effective local control. For example, in the case of cadmium, much is found in fine particles which do not readily dry deposit, rather having long residence times in the atmosphere and hence are subject to long-range transport processes.
Change (%) in mercury emissions 1990-2008 (EEA member countries)
Note: The reported change in mercury (Hg) emissions for each country, 1990-2008.
Emission trends of selected heavy metals (EEA member countries - indexed 1990 = 100)
Note: Emission trends 1990-2008 for cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg) and lead (Pb).
Change (%) in cadmium emissions 1990-2008 (EEA member countries)
Note: The reported change in cadmium (Cd) emissions for each country, 1990-2008.
Change (%) in lead emissions 1990-2008 (EEA member countries)
Note: The reported change in lead emissions for each country, 1990-2008.
In the EEA-32 region, emissions of emissions of lead have decreased by 90%, mercury by 61% and cadmium by 58% between 1990 and 2008 (Figure 1). A combination of targeted legislation (for details see Indicator specification - policy context) coupled with improved controls and abatement techniques has in general led to significant progress being made in most countries to reduce heavy metal emissions (Figure 2, Figure 3 and Figure 4).
EEA-32 emissions of cadmium have declined by 58% between 1990 and 2008. This is largely due to improvements in abatement technologies for wastewater treatment, incinerators and in metal refining and smelting facilities, coupled with the effect of EC directives and regulations mandating reductions in heavy metal emissions (e.g. the IPPC directive and associated permitting conditions).
A number of countries have achieved significant emission reductions in excess of 75% since 1990 (Figure 2). Countries that have reported the largest percentage reductions include United Kingdom (-88%), Lithuania (-88%), Bulgaria (-87%), Estonia (-86%), France (-81%), Finland (-81%), Sweden (-78%) and Germany (-77%). The largest emitters of cadmium in 2008 were Poland (responsible for 35% of total EEA-32 emissions), Spain (12%), Slovakia (9%), Italy (7%), Portugal (4%) and Romania (4%). Emissions for a small number of countries (Cyprus, Malta and Slovakia) have increased during this period (Figure 3).
EEA-32 emissions of mercury have declined by 61% between 1990 and 2008. This is attributed to in e.g. the industrial sector on improved controls on mercury cells and their replacement by diaphragm or membrane cells, in the power and heat generating sectors by the decline of coal use caused by fuel-switching in many countries from coal to gas and other energy sources, and coupled again with the effect of various EC directives and regulations mandating reductions in heavy metal emissions.
As with cadmium, a number of countries have made substantial cuts in emissions since 1990. This includes Bulgaria (88%), the United Kingdom (84%), France (83%), Switzerland (83%) and Germany (81%). Emissions for a small number of countries (Cyprus, Malta and Lithuania) have increased during this period (Figure 3).
EEA-32 emissions of lead have declined by 90% between 1990 and 2008. This is primarily due to reductions made by countries in the road transport sector. The promotion of unleaded petrol within the EU through a combination of fiscal and regulatory measures has been a particular success story. EU Member States and other EEA member countries have now phased out the use of leaded petrol, a goal that was regulated in the EU by the Directive on the Quality of Petrol and Diesel Fuels (98/70/EC).
In 2008 the largest emitters of lead were Poland (responsible for 24% of total EEA-32 emissions), Bulgaria (13%), Italy (12%) and Spain (12%). All countries report lower emissions of lead in 2008 compared with the year 1990, the only exception being Malta (Figure 4).
Specific policy question: How do different sectors and processes contribute to emissions of heavy metals?
Change in cadmium, mercury and lead emissions for each sector between 1990 and 2008 (EEA member countries)
Note: Percentage change in cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg) and lead (Pb) emissions for each sector between 1990 and 2008.
Emissions by sector of selected heavy metals - 2008 (EEA member countries)
Note: The contribution made by different sectors to emissions of cadmium - Cd; mercury - Hg; and lead - Pb.
For the heavy metals cadmium, mercury and lead, the most significant emissions sources in 2008 were from energy-related sources associated with fuel combustion, particularly from public power and heat generating facilities and from energy combustion in industrial facilities (Figure 5).
As noted earlier, for lead, the promotion of unleaded petrol within the EU and in other EEA member countries through a combination of fiscal and regulatory measures has been a key success story within Europe. The large reduction of lead emissions from the road transport sector (of nearly 99%) has been responsible for the vast majority of the overall reduction of lead emissions since 1990. Nevertheless, the road transport sector still remains an important source of lead, contributing around 8.5% of total lead emission in the EEA-32 region. Residual lead in fuel, from engine lubricants and parts, and from tyre and brake wear contribute to the ongoing lead emissions from this sector.
Lead and cadmium emissions have also both decreased from certain industrial processes eg from metal refining and smelting activities, reflecting improved pollution abatement control, and in some countries being a result of economic restructuring and the closure of older and more polluting industrial facilities.
For mercury, since 1990 the largest reduction (in absolute terms) has been achieved by the energy industries sector i.e. public power and heat generation. Mercury emissions from this sector are closely linked to the use of coal, which contains mercury as a contaminant. Past changes in fuel use within this sector since 1990, particularly fuel switching in many countries from coal to gas and other energy sources, closure of older inefficient coal-burning plants, and improved pollution abatement equipment etc are mainly responsible for the past decreases in emissions from this sector.
National emissions reported to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP Convention)
provided by United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (Environment and Human Settlements Division, UNECE)
More information about this indicator
See this indicator specification for more details.
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoMartin Adams
EEA Management Plan2010 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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