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Health & Chemicals

Report on the Evaluation of PRTR Pilot Project in Japan

2. Outline of Evaluation Results

The pilot project was evaluated based on the results of reporting and estimation, the outcome of hearings and questionnaire survey, opinions expressed by citizens, and comparison with PRTRs in other countries. With regard to items requiring detailed technical knowledge, a preliminary study was done by the Working Group to Investigate PRTR Pilot Project Evaluation, chaired by Prof. Kohei Urano of Yokohama National University. Through these means, the PRTR Technical Advisory Committee was able to conduct a thorough assessment.

(1) Evaluation of Items with regard to Framework

1) Target Chemical Substances

The pilot project selected 178 substances from a range of chemical substances suspected of affecting human health and the environment. They were chosen by ranking substances according to the level of hazard, volume of domestic production, and level of exposure resulting from their use. In the future, it will be necessary to review these selections as new scientific knowledge sheds light on the toxicity of substances.

The Technical Advisory Committee pointed out, based on the above-mentioned principles and experience from the pilot project, that special consideration needs to be paid to the following:

* Substances should also be selected with consideration to their endocrine disruptive effects, which have attracted worldwide attention recently.
* The percentage of toxic substances in mixtures should be lowered; for example, from the 1% used in the pilot project to 0.1% used by OSHA of the US, as the standard for carcinogenic substances.
* The lower bound of 0.1 tons (10 tons in the case of low toxicity substances) for the amount of a target substance handled by a target business per year appears to be appropriate, but further consideration should be given to the degrees of toxicity and size of the company using these substances.

2)Target Businesses

In the pilot project, companies from all manufacturing industries and some non-manufacturing industries were selected for investigation. Aside from a few non-manufacturing industries, almost all industrial categories reported releasing or transferring target chemical substances. Some non-manufacturing industries (general construction, ground freight transport, etc.), however, had difficulty ascertaining how much of the target substances might have been released in the course of their business. It is known that they are releasing only small amounts of the target substances. Therefore, further consideration needs to be given to whether these industries shall be removed from the list of target businesses or whether the Environment Agency shall estimate their releases under non-point sources.

Regarding the lower bounds set on the number of employees, the results of a survey of reporting among companies with different numbers of employees and of businesses that were too small to be included in the investigation indicated that the lower bounds of 30 to100 employees were adequate in general. However, it was difficult to ascertain the amount of releases and transfers of some categories (e.g. manufacturing of metal products) with these criteria. Consideration is called for to lower the limits in these cases.

3)Report Contents

It appears that the items selected for reporting were appropriate. However, further consideration and improvement will be needed when systematizing the reporting system based on the results of the pilot project. For example, items could be added to help verify data on the amount of target substances handled and improvement could be made to the styles and modes of description in reporting data. Opinions were expressed that the amounts of substances transferred as products or stored should be reported. However, the transfer of products and storage do not fall under the category of direct releases and thus, are outside of the realm of PRTRs. Therefore, it is thought that this data shall be handled elsewhere. However, the release and disposal of the end-of-use products need to be accounted for.

(2) Evaluation of Items Relating to Reporting, Estimation, etc.

1)Calculating Releases and Transfers

a) From Point Sources
The pilot project was implemented with the cooperation of businesses. They reported voluntarily based on a careful plan designed with the same level of implementation and elaborateness as practiced in other countries that have adopted PRTRs. Thus, the data obtained are considered highly reliable.
The Release Calculation Manual was used by most of the point sources in reporting. Despite some users said that it contained too much information and that its contents were difficult to understand, the majority of users evaluated it as easy to understand. Comments from users included the need for more examples, different manuals for different industries, simpler instructions, greater accuracy, etc. In order to reduce burden on businesses, improvements are called for including the preparation of different materials for specific industries such as laundry. Appropriate reviews shall be conducted to improve accuracy. These improvements can be made by accumulating more knowledge, making necessary revisions in the interval before a PRTR system is fully implemented, conducting trials to verify methods of calculation, and comparing calculated results with monitoring results of substances that tend to be released in large volumes.
(b) From Non-Point Sources
It is difficult to estimate releases from non-point sources due to difficulty in obtaining the needed data and difference between the fiscal year periods for which statistical data are gathered and those used in reports from point sources. However, the estimated amounts of release from non-point sources, when combined with reports from point sources, give an overall picture of the chemical substances released and transferred and are essential for accurately evaluating the overall environmental risk. Moreover, the estimated amounts can form an extremely important decision-making basis for implementing effective plans to reduce risks within the complex distribution structure of chemical products in the modern society.
The utmost efforts have been made in the pilot project to utilize data from the main sources of release and transfer to make estimates for non-point sources as accurate as possible. Explanation shall be provided to enable users to evaluate the validity of the data used in the estimates. In addition, it is necessary to improve the accuracy of future estimates by creating and upgrading the systems for gathering and maintaining data.

2)The Burden on Businesses

According to responses to the questionnaire, business facilities in Japan handled, on average, the same number of target chemical substances as their counterparts in the U.S. and Canada. To the businesses, the PRTR system required most time at the beginning for investigating the chemical substances contained in the products being handled, and incurred the greatest financial cost for analysis and measurement, but the average cost per facility was only about 140,000 yen ($1,000).

The above results indicated that the burden PRTRs exerted on businesses was higher in the pilot project because it was the first time. As these businesses gain experience and learn how to save effort, the burden of PRTRs on businesses is expected to decrease in future surveys. Nevertheless, it will be important to continue to monitor the types, characteristics, and degree of burden that PRTRs have on businesses and to maximize the cost effectiveness of PRTRs as an instrument for environmental protection.

3)Support Policies

From the viewpoint of reducing the burden on businesses and facilitating the implementation of PRTRs, measures must be formulated to assist target businesses. One of these measures is the above-mentioned "Release Calculation Manual." Efforts must be made to make it more useful. Another measure is to maintain a system to enable producers of chemical products, which contain a mixture of substances including the target substances, to provide information on the component ratios to companies further down the distribution line. This will facilitate accurate and speedy calculations of the amounts of chemical substances released by target businesses.

Thanks to electronic communications technology, it is possible to report via electronic media. This reduces the workload not only for the target businesses but also for the administrative body compiling the data. Thus, it is advisable to combine the use of both paper and electronic media for PRTRs.


During compilation, some reports were found to contain abnormal data in comparison with other reports. These reports were verified with the businesses through local governments. However, as the pilot project was not intended to establish indices for comparing reports of the amounts of substances handled, insufficiencies exist in this regard. Having each business verifies its own data is the most efficient way, but it is also necessary to develop mechanisms for the administrative side receiving the reports to perform effective checks to ensure the reliability of reports and figures.

Data on the amounts released and transferred were compiled on a substance-by-substance basis. In addition to the overall compilation, data on the medium of release, industry type, and region were compiled and reported in the Interim Report. The public's opinion, however, indicated the need for more detailed statistics, comparison with monitored results, and application of data to risk assessment.

5)Dissemination of Information

During the pilot project, information was provided over the Internet and through printed reports, as should be done in PRTR systems. Seminars were held and explanatory guides were published to promote awareness of PRTRs, which was one of the objectives of the pilot project. The mass media covered PRTRs several times and helped heighten public awareness. However, due to the technical nature of PRTRs, such as chemical names and hazard data, efforts must be made to continue holding seminars and carrying out publicity activities to enhance the public's understanding. As information needs to be disseminated in the actual implementation of a PRTR system, hazard data were furnished in the pilot project. It will be necessary to find ways to conduct environmental risk assessment based on the results of PRTRs and means to communicate information on environmental risk to the public.

To promote risk communication, local governments shall develop human resources with expert knowledge of PRTRs to explain the results of PRTRs and risk assessments to citizens, and to provide consultation services. There were suggestions for using the services of "Environmental Counselors" registered with the Environment Agency or developing human resources among NGOs and companies specializing in this field to establish the necessary infrastructure for risk communication.

(3) Discussion on Matters Other Than Technical Issues

One task of the PRTR Technical Advisory Committee is to discuss and evaluate the technical aspects of PRTRs. However, introduction of PRTRs to Japan raises a number of important points that are outside the technical realm and which were brought up in the questionnaire survey of businesses conducted as part of the Pilot Project and in the many opinions that were stimulated by the Pilot Project's Interim Report. There was also lively debate among members of the Committee regarding important points.

The course of the discussion among the Advisory Committee and opinions received relating to important non-technical points is introduced below. A full discussion will be left to deliberations at the Central Environmental Council.

1) Raising the Benefits of PRTRs

There are very many objectives for utilization of PRTRs--the Explanatory Edition of the Interim Report pointed out the usefulness of PRTRs for the majority of administrative bodies, businesses, citizens, and NGOs--and it is common knowledge that PRTRs are basically tools for planning management to reduce risks to the environment from potentially harmful chemical substances. Moreover, while they provide knowledge in an appropriate way to citizens on releases and transfers of chemicals, PRTRs' most important features are that all sectors of society can participate in environmental risk reduction and management and that they could be methods for the realization of cost-effective countermeasures.

In order to heighten the utility of PRTRs in this regard, the opinions and arguments of all groups on points worth consideration have been compiled and are presented below.

*With PRTRs established appropriately among the measures for reducing future environmental risks from chemical substances, it is important to promote environmental administrative policies by making PRTRs a source of information about chemical releases.
*In addition to measures to protect the environment through regulating releases into the environment, PRTRs can be considered a source of information which ought to be shared among government administrations, businesses, citizens and NGOs. They can be thought of as real tools to earnestly consider and find measures for reducing and controlling environmental risks locally and nationwide. In order for PRTRs to become an effective bridge, so to speak, among these different sectors, PRTRs themselves must be given a definite structure, and the introduction of various subsystems to support the implementation of PRTRs must be promoted.
*In order for PRTRs to be successful, administrative bodies, businesses, citizens, and NGOs will each need to strive to make use of their respective positions in order to create measures to combat risks from chemical substances to the environment. It is also hoped that they will each play their own role, in as much as they can, in order to assure that PRTRs are implemented smoothly.
*In order to prevent environmental pollution, countermeasures at the local level are important. In order to achieve these, it is hoped that local governments can make use of PRTR data to promote risk communication and develop countermeasures against environmental risks at the local level.

2) Ensuring Fairness and Higher Rates of Response

The Pilot Project was implemented by getting businesses to cooperate voluntarily, and although this was the first attempt, the overall response rate of 52% cannot be considered high. However, if we break this figure down by business category, we find high rates of response among chemical industries (83%), who would be expected to be highly concerned, and transport-related machine and tool industries (85%). On the other hand, there were low response rates from furniture and furnishing businesses (33%) and printing and publishing businesses (37%). Thus there is considerable variation among manufacturing businesses depending on what they are manufacturing, and in fact there was even greater variation among non-manufacturing businesses. A look at the response rate as it relates to company size shows that the more employees a company had, the more likely it was to respond. Among companies with 100-199 employees, the response rate was 69%, but even among the biggest companies with 1000 or more employees, it was no more than 84%.

Many citizens expressed the opinion that they would like to see legal measures enacted in order to ensure fairness of the system and reliability of the resulting figures. In questionnaires filled out by participants at the nationwide seminars, the majority opinion of people regardless of sector was that a PRTR system needs to be instituted. They also expressed the opinions that upon its establishment, the PRTR system needs to be subject to thorough discussion; that consideration be made to avoid a heavier burden on companies by duplicating other reporting systems; and that it be linked with ISO14001.

Members of the Committee also expressed their opinions that in order to get higher response rates and be fairer, it will be necessary to make reporting mandatory in principle for individual facilities, but that in this case it will be necessary to consider how to avoid putting a big burden on small businesses. There were also proposals to make reporting of some substances mandatory and other substances voluntary, but the majority opinion was that for the sake of compilation it would be better to have a unified system.

3) Debate on Publication of Individual Company Data

As the Pilot Project was a request-based investigation which required cooperation from individual businesses, and it was important to ensure the overall process, data was sought on the condition that individual data would not be published.

There was much interest expressed on the issue of whether data from individual companies should be published when a PRTR system is fully implemented in the future, and many views were expressed. The view that individual company data should be published was mainly by citizens and NGOs, while the view that this data should not be published, or that it should be done carefully was mainly expressed by businesses and industries.

Regarding the controversy of publishing individual data, the questionnaire sent to the businesses involved in the Pilot Project asked their opinion regarding publication of individual company data when a PRTR system is fully implemented. In response, roughly one third said it would be okay to publish all or part of the data, another third said they were completely opposed or that they would do their utmost to avoid such publication, and the last third had no opinion on it. On the other hand, in response to the questionnaire to the seminar participants, more responded that it was necessary to make data on releases and transfers by individual companies available to the public, than those who did not, regardless of which sector the participant represented.

Reasons given for considering publication of individual company data necessary included that this would help reduce amounts released by ensuring transparency of data and that it would be useful in managing the environment locally by obtaining local release data of chemicals. On the other hand, one reason given for opposing it was that if figures were published without any explanation of their meaning this would simply increase apprehension among the public.

Among foreign countries that have adopted PRTRs, some, including the U.S. and Canada, publish individual company data under their PRTR system, and others, including the Netherlands and the U.K., do not, but they give access to individual company data by other means. In any case, while giving uniform consideration to maintaining trade secrets, they have implemented PRTRs with the understanding that there will be access to individual company data. In Japan there is now a bill under deliberation before the Diet regarding public access to information called the "Bill Relating to Public Disclosure of Information Held by Administrative Institutions" (below called the "Public Disclosure Bill").

Bearing this in mind, various opinions were expressed in the PRTR Technical Advisory Committee with regard to publication of individual company data, including that it is important to at least provide access to individual data and that voluntary disclosure by companies ought to be respected. In promoting public disclosure of individual company data, the importance of promoting risk communication was pointed out. It was also noted that it is important to accumulate experience and observe what has been actually learned by the people involved with the Pilot Project, or to refer to other countries' experiences, such as those in the U.S. and U.K., that the problems had been solved year after year.

There needs to be further consideration of this matter in the future.

4) Consideration of Trade Secrets

Another important point regarding publication of individual company data is the problem of protecting trade secrets. The questionnaire distributed to the businesses asked them if the data they had been asked to supply in the Pilot Project contained any trade secrets, and only about 10% of the companies overall answered in the affirmative. When asked what constituted the secret information, most answered "substances being used or their composition," and only a few answered "amounts being released." Thus it appears that if only a small part of the data are protected as trade secrets, publication of individual company data could proceed.

Citizen opinions included the view that it is important to strive for transparency in judgment standards and that trade secrets could be protected if the burden of proof is put on the businesses.

There is some variation in how other countries handle trade secrets, but in general the company petitions the government, and the environment ministry/agency reviews the petition, and judges whether the information qualifies as a trade secret or not. There are countries, such as the U.S. and Canada, which have clearly spelled out standards of judgment for this process. However, the cases in which the information is deemed to be appropriate for secrecy are few in number.

In light of these examples on how to deal with secrecy, it is important to consider methods for handling this appropriately in Japan, taking into account the procedures in the Public Disclosure Bill or the definition in the Law to Prevent Unfair Competition.

5) Comparison with Principles Concerning Establishment of PRTR Systems in Annex to OECD Council Recommendation

In the final stages of consideration and evaluation of a PRTR system in Japan, an opinion was expressed that there should be a review of annex to the recommendation on PRTRs by the OECD Council entitled "Principles Concerning Establishment of PRTR Systems." Accordingly, the Advisory Committee is now compiling an evaluation about the status of efforts and approaches in reference with each of the principles. It is thought that this kind of evaluation will be appropriate once a PRTR system has been established in Japan, but it would also be appropriate to refer to the evaluation conducted by the Pilot Program when considering future courses.

In particular, the following two items will be considered important in future considerations:

[13]A compliance mechanism to best meet the needs of the goals and objectives should be agreed by affected and interested parties.
[14]The entire process of establishing a PRTR system and its implementation and operation should be transparent and objective.

The PRTR Technical Advisory Committee designed the Pilot Program itself; however, for the evaluation, the Environment Agency published the Interim Report, explained PRTRs and the Pilot Project at seminars nationwide, and sought opinions from citizens for two months. In addition, for the evaluation, discussions were held with industry, citizen, and NGO representatives. The materials used and content of discussions at the Committee were included in the report. Therefore, the evaluation has been undertaken in a transparent and objective manner. In the future efforts will be made to ensure as much transparency and objectivity as possible, and to agree with affiliated and interested organizations.

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