Heavy metal emissions

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-171-en
Also known as: APE 005
expired Created 05 Dec 2013 Published 20 Dec 2013 Last modified 02 Oct 2017
18 min read
Note: new version is available!
This page was archived on 09 Mar 2015 with reason: Other (New version data-and-maps/indicators/eea32-heavy-metal-hm-emissions-1/assessment-4 was published)
Across the EEA-33 countries, emissions of lead have decreased by 89%, mercury by 66% and cadmium by 64% between 1990 and 2011. For each substance, the most significant sources in 2011 are from energy-related fuel combustion, particularly from public power and heat generating facilities, and from 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 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 emissions in 1990, when it contributed around 76% of the EEA-33 total for lead, emissions from the road transport sector have decreased by nearly 98%. Nevertheless, the road transport sector still remains an important source of lead, contributing around 12% of total lead emissions in the EEA-33 region. However since 2004 little progress has been made in reducing emissions further; 97.9% of the total reduction from 1990 emissions of lead had been achieved by 2004. Environmental context: Heavy metals (such as cadmium, lead and mercury) are recognised as being toxic to biota. All are prone to biomagnification, i.e. being progressively accumulated higher up the food chain, such that bioaccumulation in lower organisms at relatively low concentrations can expose higher consumer 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, but 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, and therefore have long residence times in the atmosphere and are subject to long-range transport processes.

Key messages

  • Across the EEA-33 countries, emissions of lead have decreased by 89%, mercury by 66% and cadmium by 64% between 1990 and 2011. For each substance, the most significant sources in 2011 are from energy-related fuel combustion, particularly from public power and heat generating facilities, and from 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 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 emissions in 1990, when it contributed around 76% of the EEA-33 total for lead, emissions from the road transport sector have decreased by nearly 98%. Nevertheless, the road transport sector still remains an important source of lead, contributing around 12% of total lead emissions in the EEA-33 region. However since 2004 little progress has been made in reducing emissions further; 97.9% of the total reduction from 1990 emissions of lead had been achieved by 2004.
  • Environmental context: Heavy metals (such as cadmium, lead and mercury) are recognised as being toxic to biota. All are prone to biomagnification, i.e. being progressively accumulated higher up the food chain, such that bioaccumulation in lower organisms at relatively low concentrations can expose higher consumer 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, but 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, and therefore have long residence times in the atmosphere and are subject to long-range transport processes.

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

Change in cadmium emissions

Chart
Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Table
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Change in mercury emissions

Chart
Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Table
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Change in lead emissions

Chart
Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Table
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

In the EEA-33 region, emissions of lead have decreased by 89%, mercury by 66% and cadmium by 64% between 1990 and 2011 (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).

Cadmium
EEA-33 emissions of cadmium have declined by 64% between 1990 and 2011. 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 and limits on heavy metal emissions (e.g. the IED, IPPC directive and associated permitting conditions).

A number of countries (11 of the 30 EEA33 countries which have reported 1990 emissions) have achieved significant emission reductions in excess of 75% since 1990 (Figure 2). Countries that have reported the largest percentage reductions include Lithuania (96%), Malta (92%), the United Kingdom (88%), France (88%), Hungary (87%), Slovakia (87%), Estonia (85%) and the Czech Republic (81%).

The largest emitters of cadmium in 2011 were Poland (responsible for 46% of total EEA-33 emissions), Spain (11%), Italy (8%), Germany (6%), Greece (3%) and the United Kingdom (3%). Emissions from two countries (Liechtenstein and Cyprus) have increased during this period (Figure 3).

Mercury
EEA-33 emissions of mercury have declined by 66% between 1990 and 2011. This is attributed chiefly to changes in the industrial sector such as improving controls on mercury cells and their replacement by diaphragm or membrane cells, fuel-switching in the power and heat generating sectors from coal to gas and other energy sources in many countries, and the effect of various EU directives and regulations mandating reductions in heavy metal emissions.

All but two (Liechtenstein and Greece) of the EEA-33 countries have reported lower emissions in 2011 than 1990, and a number of countries have made substantial cuts in emissions since 1990. The greatest reductions have been reported in Malta (98%), Lithuania (95%), Slovakia (91%), Denmark (87%) and Hungary (87%).

Since 1990 the largest reduction in Mercury emissions (60.2 kt in absolute terms) has been achieved by the 'Energy production and distribution' 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. Changes in fuel use within this sector since 1990 are mainly responsible for the past decreases in emissions from this sector, 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.

Lead

EEA-33 emissions of lead have declined by 89% between 1990 and 2011, primarily due to reductions made by countries in emissions from 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 2011 the largest emitters of lead were Poland (responsible for 22% of total EEA-33 emissions), Greece (19%) and Italy (11%). The only country to report higher emissions of lead in 2011 compared with 1990 was Malta (Figure 4), in which lead emissions from the road transport and energy production and distribution sectors, which represent 57% and 43% of the national total respectively, were dramatically higher than 2009. Road transport was only reported from 2010 and energy production and distribution increased twenty five-fold between 2010 and 2011, thus skewed the trend in the national total to show a sixteen-fold increase since 1990.

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

Sector split of emissions of selected heavy metals

Chart
Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Table
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Change in cadmium, mercury and lead emissions for each sector

Chart
Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Table
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

For the heavy metals cadmium, mercury and lead, the most significant emissions sources in 2011 were from energy-related sources associated with fuel combustion, particularly from public power and heat generating facilities and from fuel combustion for energy use 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 over 98%) 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 15.4% of total lead emission in the EEA-33 region. Residual lead in fuel, from engine lubricants and parts, and from tyre and brake wear contribute to the on-going lead emissions from this sector.

Lead and cadmium emissions have also both decreased from certain industrial processes, such as metal refining and smelting activities, reflecting improved pollution abatement control, and in some countries as 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 production and distribution' 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. Changes in fuel use within this sector since 1990 are mainly responsible for the past decreases in emissions from this sector, 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.

 

Answer to unknown question

Indicator specification and metadata

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

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

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.


Data sources

Generic metadata

Topics:

information.png Tags:
, , , , , , , ,
DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Performance indicator (Type B - Does it matter?)

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Federico Antognazza

EEA Management Plan

2013 1.1.2 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100