PRTR Logo Background: PRTRs and Their Purposes

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Several national and regional government organisations have developed systems to collect and disseminate data on environmental releases and transfers of toxic chemicals from industrial facilties. More Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers are underway, stimulated by the recommendations of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro that affirmed the right of communities and workers to know about toxic chemicals and the importance of chemical inventories to meet that right-to-know. International bodies, environmental groups, industrial firms and associations, and other non-governmental organizations are involved in developing these systems.

Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers generally have these defining characteristics:

  1. reporting on individual chemicals
  2. by individual industrial facilities
  3. on all releases and transfers
  4. to all environmental media (air, water, land)
  5. periodically
  6. with consistently structured data
  7. entered into a computer database, and
  8. actively disseminated to the public
  9. with limited data withheld as trade secrets,
  10. with the aim to improve environmental quality and promote cleaner technology.

While government organisations around the world have long collected data from industrial facilities on their pollutants, PRTRs are a relatively recent development. They have also evolved for different reasons and in different ways among countries with the first established PRTRs. These PRTR histories offer lessons for emerging and expanding PRTRs.

PRTRs have proven valuable, not only to track the environmental performance of industrial facilities and the effectiveness of government programs and policies that apply to them, but also to stimulate voluntary initiatives by companies to reduce their releases and transfers of toxic chemicals. Uses for PRTR data are too numerous to name, and they continue to expand.

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Instituted by UNEP Chemicals (International Register of Potentially Toxic Chemicals of the United Nations Environment Programme), Switzerland.
This activity is carried out as a contribution to the Inter-Organisation Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC).
Developed by The Hampshire Research Institute, Alexandria, Virginia, USA.

Last updated 1 March 1996 | http://www.chem.unep.ch/prtr/bakgd01.html