WASHINGTON -- Environmental pollution in North America dropped 5 percent between 1995 and 2000, according to a new study by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The study released Thursday said two of the most notable trends reflected in the overall decline are a 28 percent drop in the amount of chemicals emitted into the air and a 41 percent increase in the amount of chemicals sent largely to off-premise landfills.
In 2000, the total amount of pollution released or transferred elsewhere in the United States, Canada and Mexico was 3.6 million tons -- 1.5 million tons of it going into the air, water or ground, the study says. Of the remainder, more than 1 million tons went to recycling operations and the rest was sent for treatment, energy recovery or disposal.
"It's a good news-bad news picture. The large facilities are continuing to track downwards on their releases overall. But then when you look at the small 'p' polluters ... they're tracking upward," said Victor Shantora, acting executive director of the Montreal-based commission.
Electric utilities, steel mills, chemical makers and other industries in three states -- Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- and Canada's Ontario province accounted for as much as a fourth of the continent's pollutants, the study found.
The five facilities reporting the largest total releases of pollution were operated by Kennecott Utah Copper in Magna, Utah; Chemical Waste Management in Arlington, Ore.; ASARCO Inc. in East Helena, Mont. and in Hayden Ariz.; and Magnesium Corp. of America in Rowley, Utah.
Fourteen percent of the total pollution was in the form of chemicals such as styrene, lead and chromium and their compounds that are known or suspected carcinogens, the study said.
Among the carcinogens, styrene was at the top of air pollutants -- more than 30,000 tons in 2000, the study said. The five biggest sources were facilities operated by Ameripol Synpol Corp. in Port Neches, Texas; Aguaglass Corp. in Adamsville and in McEwen, Tenn.; and Lasco Bathware Inc. in Cordele, Ga., and in Yelm, Wash.
To establish the trend between 1995 and 2000, the study compares only those chemicals and industries that have consistently reported their pollution each of those years. Using those figures, the total amount of environmental pollutants released and transferred has decreased from 1.448 million tons in 1995 to 1.381 million tons in 2000.
The study's authors noted that the trend shows several mixed pictures, reducing on-site releases in some cases but sending more wastes to landfills, treatment plants and other places away from their facilities.
Larger polluters -- those reporting at least 110 tons annually -- showed a 7 percent decline in the amount of chemicals from 1998 to 2000, though they still accounted for about nine-tenths of all pollution reported. Smaller polluters -- those reporting less than 110 tons -- showed a 32 percent increase during that time.
The study covers most industry in the United States and Canada, with companies in Mexico starting to voluntarily report figures.
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