Revision of the PRTR

gThe Act on Confirmation, etc., of Release Amounts of Specific Chemical Substances in the Environment and Promotion of Improvements to the Management Thereofh was established in 1999 and became effective in April 2001. The Congress passed the law with an additional resolution that the Act shall be reviewed seven years after coming into force. Two committees, one from MOE and one from METI, jointly reviewed the Act, beginning in December 2006 (13).

The MOE hosted a number of discussion sessions with experts from May 2005 on and issued a report prior to the review by the Joint Committee. The author attended the expert discussion sessions as a representative for civil society (14).

The author also attended and commented at the joint MOE/METI committee as a committee member for the Central Environment Councilfs sub-committee for the environmental management of chemical substances. The result of the review by the Joint Committee was published as an gintermediate reporth in August 2006, and it became a final report after going through a public comment process. An ordinance was issued based on the review, and the PRTR system was renewed in April 2010.

The following are some of the most relevant changes which reflect the report.

(1) Active dissemination of data by the national government

The most meaningful revision based on the review is the change in the way data are disseminated. Previously the national government only disclosed the data on request and on payment of a fee; now the national government actively publishes all the data reported by BOs on the internet. The system was changed in 2009 in response to opinions expressed by citizens and NGOs. The change brings a significant benefit to citizens.

(2) Review of the listed industries and designated substances

It was pointed out that the agriculture and construction industries, which have significant releases, should be listed since the purpose of the Act is to understand chemical releases and quantities. The Joint Committee, however, decided not to designate agriculture as a listed industry for the reasons that the Agricultural Chemicals Regulation Act deals with the reduction of pesticide use, that the released amounts from agriculture are already covered as Estimated Releases Outside Notification, and that most farms are run by family members and it is rare that the number of employees exceeds 20 people. With respect to the construction industry, the Joint Committee will keep studying the possibility of listing although the committee was concerned that it may not be suitable because most construction sites exist for short periods of less than a year and the releases from paints occur only for limited periods.

Since medical services are a listed industry, it has been decided to include university hospitals from the viewpoint of fairness, in spite of their small releases of designated chemical substances.

After the Joint Committee published an intermediate report, an expert committee

was held to review the list of designated substances. The report was finalized after the

public comments procedure.

The review increased the number of Class I substances for PRTR reporting and MSDSs was increased from 354 to 462 substances. The number of Class II substances (MSDS only) was also increased, from 81 to 100 substances (15).

(3) Further calculations for Estimated Releases Outside Notification

Sewage treatment is a listed industry but its reporting requirements cover only 30 substances. Surface active agents and some other substances are not included but civil society representatives claimed that they should be reported under the Act. The national government did not expand the coverage, but decided to calculate releases and these data have been disclosed since 2007. Similarly, the national government also decided to calculate the quantities of designated substances released from waste incinerators. These data are not available yet as it is still being calculated.

(4) Change in registration items

During the public comment process, the government received many opinions calling for transferred amounts of wastes to be separated into two categories, one for intermediate processes such as incineration and one for permanent disposal such as in landfill sites. The government revised the ordinance so that BOs report categories of transfer of wastes from 2010. BOs must also describe the location to which the wastes are transferred. Note that when wastes are recycled or reused, they are not considered as gtransferredh.

(5) Issues unsolved in the committee

A controversial issue which did not reach resolution in the committee is the question of whether BOs should report the handling amounts and/or the maximum storage amounts of waste or used chemicals. The author asserted that citizens should be informed about the quantities as well as the risks accompanying accidents and disasters, by revising the purpose of the Act to achieve more fully the gright to knowh. On the other hand, the committee members representing industrial sectors strongly objected to disclosure of the amounts, claiming that these are trade secrets and that the disclosure does not promote reductions of releases. They also insisted that the maximum storage amounts do not have to be reported because they are already reported to governments in accordance with other laws such as the Fire Service Act. However, the maximum storage amounts are not made public under that Act. Disclosure is necessary from the perspective of increasing citizensf safety and trust.

Now the data reported by individual BOs after FY2007 can be downloaded through the website operated by the national government free of charge. Although the Act took the approach that citizens could receive the information for a fee, the national government has now decided to publish the data directly and without waiting for revision of the Act (13). This reflects the intermediate report by the Joint Committee.

In order to download the PRTR data reported by BOs, users must download the program called gKensakunh offered by the government. As gKensakunh requires a user to download all the data (and not just that of interest), the program is considered not user-friendly and too complicated for average citizens to use (16). The PRTR database operated by T Watch often receives favorable feedback that it is much easier to use than gKensakunh.

However, the national government has been working on a webpage where people could click on factory icons on a map to access the data reported by factories. But the MOE says that the government is having difficulties locating factory icons accurately because of the need to convert the reported addresses of sites into latitude and longitude. The website is not yet open two years since the plan was announced. Another problem is that the government must create original maps for copyright protection (without using Google Maps) as the website is officially operated by the national government of Japan .

13) A sub-committee for Chemical Substances Environmental Management,
Environment and Health Division, Central Environment Council Japanese only
14) Expert discussion regarding gAct on Confirmation, etc. of Release Amounts of
Specific Chemical Substances in the Environment and Promotion of Improvements to
the Management Thereofh (Japanese only).
15) Expert committee regarding PRTR designated substances. Environment and Health
Division, Central Environment Council (Japanese only)
16) Users must download a program called gKensakunh to access the data. The site is
only available in Japanese.