Indicator Specification

EEA32 Heavy metal (HM) emissions

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes: AIR 001
Published 15 Feb 2010 Last modified 25 Aug 2017
9 min read
This is an old version, kept for reference only.

Go to latest version
This page was archived on 25 Aug 2017 with reason: A new version has been published
The indicator tracks trends since 1990 in anthropogenic emissions of heavy metals. The indicator also provides information on emissions by sectors: Energy industries; road and other transport; industry (processes and energy); other (energy); fugitive emissions; waste; agriculture and other (non energy). Geographical coverage: EEA-32 (EU-27 Member States, EFTA-4 countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) and Turkey) Temporal coverage: 1990-2007

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


Justification for indicator selection

Heavy metals (such as cadmium, mercury and lead) are recognised as being directly 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 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. Those heavy metals that 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

  • The indicator tracks trends since 1990 in anthropogenic emissions of heavy metals.
  • The indicator also provides information on emissions by sectors: Energy industries; road and other transport; industry (processes and energy); other (energy); fugitive emissions; waste; agriculture and other (non energy).
  • Geographical coverage: EEA-32 (EU-27 Member States, EFTA-4 countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) and Turkey)
  • Temporal coverage: 1990-2007
  • Units

    Tons (metric tonnes)


    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 also 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 including 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.

    Finally, 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



    Methodology for indicator calculation

    Indicator is based on officially reported national total and sectoral emissions to 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 2009. Recommended methodologies for emission inventory estimation are compiled in the EMEP/CORINAIR Atmospheric Emission Inventory guidebook, EEA Copenhagen (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 (

     This base data, reported in SNAP, draft NFR or NFR are aggregated into the following EEA sector codes to obtain a common reporting format across all countries and pollutants:

    • 'Energy industries': emissions from public heat and electricity generation, oil refining and production of solid fuels;
    • 'Fugitive emissions': Emissions from extraction and distribution of solid fossil fuels and geothermal energy;
    • 'Industry (Energy)': emissions from combustion processes used in the manufacturing industry including boilers, gas turbines and stationary engines;
    • 'Industry (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;
    • 'Off-road transport': railways, domestic shipping, certain aircraft movements, and non-road mobile machinery used in agriculture & forestry;
    • 'Other (energy-related)' emissions principally occurring from fuel combustion in the services and household sectors;
    • 'Other (Non Energy)': 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;
    • 'Unallocated': The difference between the reported national total and the sum of the sectors reported by a country.

    The 'unallocated' sector corresponds to the difference between the reported national total and the sum of the reported sectors for a given pollutant / country / year combination. It can be either negative or positive. Inclusion of this additional sector means that the officially reported national totals do not require adjustment to ensure that they are consistent with the sum of the individual sectors reported by countries.

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

    EEA classification

    NFR Emission Source Category

    0 National totals

    National total

    1 Energy Industries


    3 Industry (energy)


    2 Fugitive emissions


    7 Road transport


    8 Other transport (non-road mobile machinery)

    1A3 (exl 1A3b)

    9 Industry processes


    4 Agriculture

    4 + 5B

    5 Waste


    6 Other (energy)

    1A4a, 1A4b, 1A4b(i), 1A4c(i), 1A5a

    10 Other (non-energy)

    3 + 7

    12 Energy industries (power and heat production)


    14 Unallocated

    Difference between national total and sum of sectors (1 - 10)

    Methodology for gap filling

    To allow trend analysis, where countries have not reported data for one or more years, data in the 'EEA aggregated and gap-filled air emission dataset' has been interpolated to derive the emissions for the missing year or years. If the reported data is missing either at the beginning or at the end of the period, the emission value is assumed to equal the first or last reported value. The use of gap-filling may lead to artificial trends, but it is considered necessary if a comprehensive and comparable set of emissions data for European countries is to be obtained. A spreadsheet containing a record of the gap-filled data is available from EEA's European Topic Centre on Air and Climate Change (ETC/ACC) (

    Methodology references

    No methodology references available.


    Data specifications

    EEA data references

    Data sources in latest figures



    Methodology uncertainty

    The use of gap-filling for when countries have not reported emissions for one of 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 hence are 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

    No uncertainty has been specified

    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


    No owners.


    Indicator code
    AIR 001
    Version id: 1
    Primary theme: Air pollution Air pollution


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


    Document Actions