Heavy metal emissions

Indicator Specification
Indicator codes: APE 005
Created 19 Aug 2010 Published 15 Oct 2010 Last modified 02 Oct 2017
10 min read
This indicator tracks trends in anthropogenic emissions of heavy metals over time, 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; and others. The geographical area covered by this indicator is the EEA-33 region. The EEA-33 region includes the countries of the EU-28 (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the 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, Norway and Switzerland) and Turkey. The temporal coverage of this indicator is the 1990-2013 period.

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)

Rationale

Justification for indicator selection

Heavy metals (such as Cd, Hg and Pb) are known to be directly toxic to biota. All heavy metals are progressively accumulated relatively high up the food chain, such that chronic exposure of lower organisms to relatively low concentrations of heavy metals can lead to the exposure of 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 even at low concentrations. Their toxic/carcinogenic potencies are metal/compound specific.

In particular, exposure to heavy metals has been linked to developmental retardation, various cancers, kidney damage and even death in some instances of exposure to very high concentrations. The heavy metals that cause these effects are already a focus of international and EU action. Of major concern is their possible 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 over time, 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; and others.
  • The geographical area covered by this indicator is the EEA-33 region. The EEA-33 region includes the countries of the EU-28 (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the 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, Norway and Switzerland) and Turkey.
  • The temporal coverage of this indicator is the 1990-2013 period.

Units

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 being made in most EEA-33 countries towards reducing heavy metal emissions. Such legislation includes:

  • the 1998 Aarhus Protocol on Heavy Metals (to the 1979 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on LRTAP), which targets three particularly harmful substances: Cd, Hg and Pb;
  • EU Directive 2001/80/EC on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants (the LCP Directive), which aims to limit heavy metal emissions via dust control and absorption of heavy metals;
  • EU Directive 2010/75/EU on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) (EU, 2010), which aims to prevent or minimise pollution of water, air and soil; this directive targets certain industrial, agricultural and waste treatment installations;
  • the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) Regulation (166/2006/EC), under the requirements of which emissions of a number of heavy metals released from certain industrial facilities are also estimated and reported;
  • the EU Directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe (2008/50/EC) and Directive 2004/107/EC relating to heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient air, which 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 emission standards for heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) 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 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 (No 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.

Targets

The Aarhus Protocol on Heavy Metals to the UNECE LRTAP Convention obliges parties to reduce their emissions of Cd, Hg and Pb from 1990 levels (or an alternative year from 1985 to 1995 inclusive).

Related policy documents

Key policy question

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

Specific policy question

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

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

This indicator is based on the national total and sectoral emissions data that were officially reported to the EEA and the UNECE/Co-operative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Long-range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe (EMEP) LRTAP Convention in 2016. For the EU-28, the data used are consistent with the emissions data reported by the EU in its annual submission to the LRTAP Convention.

Recommended methodologies for emission inventory estimation are included in the EMEP/EEA Air Pollutant Emission Inventory Guidebook (EMEP/EEA, 2013). Base data are available from the EEA Data Service and the EMEP website. Where necessary, gaps in reported data are filled by the European Topic Centre on Air and Climate Change (ETC/ACC) using simple interpolation techniques (see below). The final gap-filled data used in this indicator are 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, the production of solid fuels, the 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 and product use: emissions derived from non-combustion-related processes, such as the production of minerals, chemicals and metal production, and non-combustion-related emissions mainly from the services and household sectors, including activities such as paint application, dry-cleaning and other uses of solvents;
  • 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;
  • Agriculture: manure management, fertiliser application and the field burning of agricultural wastes;
  • Waste: incineration and wastewater management;
  • Other: emissions included in the national total for the entire territory not allocated to any other sector.

 

The following table shows the conversion of the 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

1A2

 

Road transport

1A3b

 

Non-road transport (non-road mobile machinery)

1A3 (excl. 1A3b)

 

Industrial processes and product use

2

 

 

 

 

Agriculture

3

 

Waste

6

 

Commercial, institutional and households

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

 

Other

7

 

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 (e.g. nitrogen oxides (NOX), sulfur oxides (SOX), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), ammonia (NH3) and carbon monoxide (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 are not yet complete and are 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

Uncertainties

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 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 Pb inventory is more uncertain than the SO2 and NOX inventories, and the certainty of the emissions data varies over the time series. This is because different source sectors have dominated at different times as a result of the very significant reductions in emissions from key sources in 1990, notably from the road transport sector. The Pb emission estimates from key sources in 1990 were based on measured concentrations of Pb in fuels, which were tightly regulated prior to being phased out in the late 1990s. This gives a high degree of confidence in the estimates for the fuel combustion sources that dominated emissions 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 emissions are derived from a smaller number of sources. The metal processing industries are mainly regulated under the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive and 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 accurate. 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 the methodology and the data sets are therefore of importance. Any uncertainties in the calculation and data sets need to be accurately communicated in the assessment, in order to prevent erroneous information from 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

Federico Antognazza

Ownership

European Environment Agency (EEA)

Identification

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

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year

Classification

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

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