Heavy metal emissions in Europe

Heavy metals accumulate in ecosystems and damage human health. In line with the EU’s commitments under the Air Convention, specific legislation led to reductions in emissions of heavy metals across Europe from 1990 levels. Between 2005 and 2019, emissions have continued to decline, with lead emissions decreasing by 44%, mercury emissions by 45% and cadmium emissions by 33% across the EU-27 Member States. In 2019, Germany, Italy and Poland contributed most to heavy metal emissions in the EU.

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Consumption of ozone-depleting substances

In 2020, the EU continued to actively phase out ozone-depleting substances (ODS), in line with its commitment under the Montreal Protocol. Data for 2020 show that consumption of ODS in the EU remained negative (-2,023 metric tonnes), meaning that more substances were destroyed or exported than were produced or imported. The EU´s consumption of these substances has been negative since 2012. For more information and data reported by companies under the Ozone Regulation,  see the online ODS data viewer .

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Industrial pollutant releases to water in Europe

Between 2010 and 2019, industrial releases to Europe’s water bodies of pollutants that are damaging to human health and the environment declined overall. Releases of heavy metals declined significantly, while emissions of nitrogen and phosphorus, which cause eutrophication, declined to a lesser extent. In the same period, the economic value of industry increased by 14%, in line with the EU policy objective of supporting industrial growth while decreasing industrial emissions. However, data gaps make it difficult to assess industry’s contribution to overall water pollution in Europe.

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Industrial pollutant releases to air in Europe

Industrial releases of air pollutants that are damaging to human health and the environment decreased between 2010 and 2019 in Europe, with emissions of greenhouse gases (e.g. CO 2 and sulphur oxides) and other pollutants (e.g. nitrogen oxides, dust and heavy metals) all declining significantly. The value that industry generated for the European economy during this period increased, however, in line with the goal of the EU industrial strategy: to support the competitiveness of European industry while driving a reduction in emissions, the use of natural resources and the production of waste.

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Emissions and energy use in large combustion plants in Europe

Between 2004 and 2019, emissions from large combustion plants in the EU decreased: SO 2 by 89%, nitrogen oxides by 60% and dust by 88%. Declines in emissions and improvements in environmental performance were largely driven by European policy, which sets legally binding emission limit values. The amount of fossil fuels used decreased by 23%, as energy production shifts to climate-friendly sources. Stricter emission limit values and policies aimed at increasing the use of renewable or cleaner fuels are expected to drive further declines in combustion plant emissions in coming years.

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Persistent organic pollutant emissions

Since 1990, emissions of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) decreased in the EEA-33 countries, e.g. hexachlorobenzene (HCB) decreased by 95 %, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) by 75 %, dioxins and furans by around 70 % and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) by 83 %. The majority of countries report that POP emissions fell during the period 1990 to 2017. In 2017, the most significant sources of emissions included the ‘Commercial, institutional and households’  and ‘Industrial processes and product use’ sectors.

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