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Substantial reductions in releases, but further efforts still needed

Target

4.2 Releases of substances that are hazardous to health or the environment will be eliminated.

Indicator

Reduction in releases of priority substances

Are we moving in the right direction? Published by the Norwegian Environment Agency

Norway has considerably reduced its use and releases of many of the hazardous substances on the priority list by means of strict emission limits, regulation of use, requirements relating to waste management and remediation measures.

The Norwegian Environment Agency welcomes this positive development, but our target has yet to be achieved. Further reductions in use and releases are needed, particularly for some of the newer substances on the list. 

Emissions of a number of priority substances substantially reduced 

Releases of a number of priority substances have been reduced by more than 90 % since 1995:

  • tributyl and triphenyl tin compounds (TBTs and TPTs)
  • pentachlorophenol (PCP)
  • tetrachloroethene (PERC)
  • trichloroethene (TRI)
  • certain surfactants (DTDMAC, DSDMAC, DHTDMAC)
  • musk xylenes
  • chlorinated alkyl benzenes (CABs)
  • hexachlorobenzene (HCB)
  • trichlorobenzene (TCB)
  • 1,2-dichloroethane (EDC)
  • nonyl-/octylphenol and their ethoxylates
  • polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)

In all, releases of these substances have been reduced by more than 1000 tonnes since 1995. 

PFOS is no longer in use, but there is concern about releases of the substance from contaminated soil. 

It is important to maintain an effective inspection and enforcement regime for these substances, and to ensure that no new areas of use emerge.

Releases of several other substances have been reduced by more than 50 % since 1995, including:

  • lead
  • short-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs)
  • cadmium
  • dioxins
  • mercury
  • polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

The use of SCCPs in products is now prohibited, but they are still found in municipal waste water and sewage sludge as a result of release from older products. Substantial quantities of PAHs are still being released despite the progress that has been made. The main source is fuelwood use by private households.

In recent years, a further significant drop in lead releases has been achieved through restrictions on its use in ammunition.

Products were the largest source of releases in 2015 

Several substances on the priority list are still used in large quantities, particularly in imported products. Many different kinds of products are involved, and it is particularly difficult to quantify the amounts of priority substances used in and released from finished articles. 

Siloxanes, medium-chain chlorinated paraffins (MCCPs) and the phthalate DEHP are being used and released to the environment, and the use of these substances appears to be increasing.

Siloxanes are widely used in beauty products such as hair and skin care products. MCCP and DEHP is mainly used as a plasticiser. Regulatory measures for siloxanes and DEHP that have been or are about to be introduced by the EU, should reduce the quantities used and released. 

Perfluorinated substances and brominated flame retardants are used in consumer goods such as textiles, electronic products and plastic products. Norway has prohibited the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in consumer products.

PFOA will be restricted in the EU from 2020, as a result of an initiative from Germany and Norway. Steps have been initiated to regulate more perfluorinated substances in the EU and globally.

Several flame retardants are strictly regulated both in the EU and globally. On Norway’s initiative, global restrictions on the use of the flame retardants hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) and deca-BDE have been adopted. In Norway there has been a national ban on deca-BDE for several years, and Norway has been instrumental in securing restrictions on the substance in the EU.

CCA-treated timber products are still in use, resulting in substantial releases of chromium and arsenic. The use of timber treated with wood preservatives containing chromium and arsenic is now strictly restricted. However, it is not considered to be cost-effective to replace CCA-treated timber in existing constructions, so that releases will continue until they are replaced. 

The way ahead 

Pollution does not stop at national borders, and many hazardous substances are carried by winds and ocean currents far from their countries of origin. They are also spread through export and import of products.

The goal of eliminating releases of priority substances by 2020 is ambitious. 

It is not enough to eliminate releases in Norway; we also need to take part in international efforts to phase out use of priority hazardous substances. The Norwegian Environment Agency takes part in work under global conventions and within the EU, for example under the chemicals regulation REACH, with the aim of ensuring stricter international regulation of substances on the Norwegian priority list.

Norway has put forward several proposals for stricter international regulations of priority substances, and these are now being considered.