Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs) are systems to collect and disseminate data on environmental releases and transfers of toxic chemicals from industrial facilties. A PRTR is an environmental database or inventory of potentially harmful releases to air, water and soil as well as wastes transported off site for treatment and disposal. Facilities releasing substances listed on a PRTR registry are to report periodically what pollutants are released, the quantity, and to which environmental media. Data is then made available to interested parties, including the public. In addition to collecting from factories, and other stationary sources, PRTR's can be designed to include estimates of releases from additional sectors such as agriculture and transportation.
PRTRs are designed for broad public audiences, supporting the right of communities and individuals to know about toxic chemicals. Users of PRTRs include: individuals living near industrial facilities, community groups, the press, planning bodies, regional and local governments, industrial facilities and their parent companies, emergency response organizations, investors, university researchers, insurance and other financial institutions, risk assessors, and many others.
PRTRs generally have the following characteristics: (1) report 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.
The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro 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.
The Emissions Inventory of the Netherlands began as an effort to create a complete inventory of sources of air pollutants. At the start, all data were collected or estimated by the government or by engineers acting on its behalf. Since then, the Netherlands inventory has expanded to include discharges to water, and it will require larger industrial facilities to report their own data. Reporting of their hazardous waste is also planned.
In the ten years since the first US "Toxics Release Inventory" (TRI, the US system of PRTR) was compiled, the data has had an extraordinary impact. US industry has responded with pollution reduction programmes and many industrialists have seen that the inventory has created an opportunity to increase efficiency. President Clinton has said of the TRI: "since the Community Right to Know Act has been on the books, reported reductions in toxic emissions are about 43 per cent for the whole country. Now that's a law worth passing. No new bureaucracy; just power to the people through basic knowledge. This has kept millions of pounds of chemicals out of our lives. It's helped people to stay healthy and live longer... it's also helped to spur innovation to help businesses work smarter and cleaner and become more profitable, not less profitable".
Pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs), maintained through periodic reporting on the releases and transfers of a specified range of substances from certain potentially polluting activities, have proven to be a highly effective and relatively low-cost means of gathering environmental information from the private sector and putting it into the public domain, thereby exerting a downward pressure on levels of pollution.