Pulse Point Newsletter for November 25, 2000
Published by Alliance Consulting International
Partners in Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety

By Enrique Medina, MS, CIH

A new Proposed Mexican Norm, NMX-XXX-SCFI-1999, "Pollution Release and Transfer Registry, List of Substances and Report" was published by the Secretariat of Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries (SEMARNAP, in Spanish) on September 28, 2000 for a sixty-day comment period ending on November 27.

The Pollution Release and Transfer Registry (PRTR) is an inventory, which describes and provides geographical references of the amounts of certain chemical substances and compounds that are released to the environment. Regulatory Annex 1 presents a List of Substances that are covered by the standard, which is part of the National Environmental Information System (NEIS).

The PRTR proposed standard specifies that those responsible for fixed sources, which emit and transfer chemicals included in the List of Substances may provide to SEMARNAP, through the National Ecology Institute (INE), information on the amounts of emissions or transfers of said chemicals. This information will be used to compile the PRTR in a format provided in Regulatory Annex 2 of the Mexican Norm.

Unlike Mexico's other regulatory standards, the Official Mexican Norms, or NOMs, NMXs, referred to simply as Mexican Norms, are not obligatory and may be considered voluntary guidelines. This is an important distinction in the case of the PRTR, which was established as part of the Right-to-Know clause in the 1996 reforms to the General Law of Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection, or LGEEPA (See Pulse Point Newsletter, September 2000 for a review of the first PRTR report).

Fixed sources under federal jurisdiction pursuant to Article 111 Bis of LGEEPA can present the report as part of their Annual Operating Permit. Otherwise, sources can present the form indicated in Annex 2 of the NMX during the months of January through April under the stipulated reporting period.

The PRTR report must indicate the methods used to obtain the information, which can include direct measurement, historical estimates, material balances, emission factors or mathematical models.

By presenting the first report, those responsible for the fixed source manifest their intention to continue to provide SEMARNAP with an annual update of the PRTR. The information provided by parties in the report is for statistical purposes and will not be considered evidence before any administrative or fiscal agency, or as part of any judicial proceedings. Publication of the PRTR will conform to confidentiality and reserve principles and provisions of the Law of Statistical Information and Geography. The information should include the following:

The compiled PRTR information is aggregated by municipality and state in both table and graphical forms. Written authorization from the responsible party to SEMARNAP will be required for the information to be published by individual source. The PRTR will be available on INE's web site or in a printed annual report. The first PRTR report including lists and maps for the 1997-98 reporting year can be viewed and downloaded from the INE web site of at: www.ine.gob.mx/dggia/retc/index.html. It was compiled from information reported in the Annual Operating Permits.

The NMX standard calls for the List of Substances to undergo periodic review and updates, and to evaluate the addition or removal of chemicals. Any interested party can propose to the Technical Committee one or more chemicals to be considered for inclusion or exclusion from the List. These proposals will be received every year during January and February. The request must include information on the proponent, names of the chemical, characteristics of the material, technical and scientific rationale for the proposal and analysis by an accredited laboratory. The evaluation of chemicals will be based on their toxicity, persistence and bioaccumulation in the environment.

The List of Substances published in the proposed voluntary standard contains 102 chemicals. This is in contrast to the 167 individual substances (plus 18 compound groups) reported in the first PRTR for the 1997-98 period, and considerable less than the 178 chemicals proposed in the first draft of the Mexican Norm.

A closer look at the List of Substances in the proposed NMX reveals some interesting facts. A comparison against the United States' Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) for 1998 (the last year published), shows that of the top 20 chemicals released in the U.S. by either original or new industries, which represent a combined total of 33 different chemicals, only six are found in the NMX list.

Even taking into account likely differences in chemical usage between the two countries, the proposed Mexican norm conspicuously excludes such large volume substances found in the TRI top 20 as ammonia, chlorine, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, phosphoric acid, ethylene, toluene, xylenes, methyl ethyl ketone, and methanol.

While recognizing that production quantities and release amounts may not be directly related, the impact of the absence of some of these chemicals from the Mexican list can be gleaned by comparing some of these top 20 chemicals in the two countries.

According to its annual report, Pemex (Mexico's state-owned oil and petrochemical company) produced 1.8 million metric tons of ammonia in 1998, while U.S. industry reported total releases and transfers of 84,000 metric tons of ammonia (#4 on the TRI list). The same year, TRI releases of ethylene (# 20) amounted to 1,363 metric tons, compared to Pemex's production of 1.25 million metric tons. Overall, over 39% of Pemex's total petrochemical production, or 3.9 million metric tons, is made up of only six chemicals found on the TRI's top 20, none of which is included in Mexico's PRTR List of Substances.

As a final footnote, one of these chemicals, Toluene, was in the original list of substances reported in Mexico's first PRTR but for some reason, did not make it into the proposed NMX standard.

The voluntary nature of the PRTR program has drawn significant criticism from some in the environmental community who claim that it gives regulatory force to the lack of obligation on the part of industry to report their releases and transfers of pollutants, thus moving away from the intended purpose of the Right-to-Know clause of the General Law.

The future of the PRTR as an effective means of providing the public with credible environmental information is still under debate. The proposed standard is a first attempt at establishing regulatory guidelines for reporting and compliance for federal sources. The next challenge will come at the state level when local agencies move to implement similar standards among state-regulated industry, including the important foreign-owned "maquiladora" sector. To date, about a third of Mexico's state environmental agencies, including several in northern border states, are in the early stages of implementing PRTR programs.

If you have questions about how the new environmental impact regulations may affect your current or future projects, please contact us at (619) 297-1469 or send us an email at emedina@pulse-point.com.


Alliance Consulting International
Partners in Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety
3361 28th St.
San Diego, California 92104
(fax (619)297-1023

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