Environmentalists claim first pollution inventory is 'flawed': Government inspectorate says list of industrial chemical emissions is 'an important start'

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THE FIRST official national directory of pollution, published yesterday, has been attacked by environmentalists as incomplete, misleading and fundamentally flawed.

And Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, the Government's principal watchdog on the environment, admitted that its first Chemical Release Inventory falls far short of being a full account of pollution in the UK.

The 550-page inventory gives total amounts of pollution emissions from waste-disposal companies, mineral producers and fuel and power industries. It does not yet include, however, other big polluters such as the chemical industry, iron and steel manufacturers and the paper and tar industries. Neither does it include vehicle emissions.

David Slater, director of the inspectorate, defended the inventory as 'an important start' to a process of making information on environmental pollution more widely available.

All important industries would be included in the inventory over the next three years and not too much should be read into the limitations of the first inventory, he said. 'Its real significance lies in the fact that we have taken the initiative in producing it.'

Friends of the Earth, which has campaigned for a detailed pollution inventory, described the first attempt as incomplete and 'fundamentally flawed'. Companies were obliged to report only on the relatively small number of chemical pollutants that require special authorisation from the pollution inspectorate, and not all the substances they released, it said.

'The Chemical Release Inventory fails to mention a single company by name, even though the data for individual companies is available,' Liana Stupples, pollution campaigner for FoE, said. 'Instead of putting a gloss on industrial pollution, the Government should ensure that the public can easily discover precisely what is coming out of their local factory.'

The impetus behind the inventory comes from the Government's commitment to making environmental information more widely and readily available to the public. John Major said in 1991 that such information would enable every individual to become their own environmental watchdog.

About 360 pollutants released into the air, rivers and land are covered by the inventory. This could rise to about 1,000 in future years, according to Stuart Wright, the scientist in charge of compiling the inventory. He said that although individual companies were not named in the inventory, the information on them did exist in the raw database. He named, for instance, the four companies responsible for the unauthorised release of about 16.5 tonnes of sulphur dioxide in 1993: British Sugar, the Defence Research Agency, Exchem and Ind Coope Brewery.

A further limitation of the inventory is the unrepresentative nature of some pollutants. Because the inventory covers power stations, for instance, almost all emissions of sulphur dioxide are included in the report. For other pollutants, such as methane, where most emissions come from farm livestock and waste tips not included in the inventory, only a fraction is covered.

The inventory says: 'Industry, of course, is not the only, or indeed in many cases even the most significant source of pollution . . . At present there are substantial practical difficulties in reporting releases from these sources.'

Data showing a rise in pollution between 1992 and 1993 should be treated with caution as it reflects an increase in the number of industries included.

Chemical Release Inventory; Sales Unit, Block 3, Spur 7, Government Buildings, Lime Grove, Ruislip, Middlesex; pounds 34.50.