updated 6/2/2004 4:51:39 PM ET 2004-06-02T20:51:39

Pollution in North America fell 10 percent over three years, but coal-burning power plants are lagging in improvements among industrial sources fouling the air, it was reported Wednesday.

The 10 percent drop occurred from 1998 to 2001, said the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a three-nation panel established by the United States, Canada and Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In 2001, the latest year for which figures were available, the total amount of pollution released or transferred elsewhere in North America was 3.25 million tons, the commission said in a study. Of the total, nearly 1 million tons went to recycling operations and more than 600,000 tons was sent to treatment, energy recovery or disposal facilities.

“We’re still pumping more chemicals into the air than all other methods of release combined,” said William Kennedy, executive director of the Montreal-based commission.

Chemical pollutants released into the air from all industrial sources decreased 18 percent over the three years, falling to 832,000 tons in 2001. But chemical pollutants from power plants fell only 9 percent, to 376,000 tons, the study said.

All but four of the top 50 air polluters in North America were coal-burning power plants.

A deadly top 10
Chemical manufacturers, smelters and steel mills, electric utilities and waste managers were the biggest polluters. The 10 pollutants released into the environment or transferred offsite in the most quantities were copper, zinc, hydrochloric acid, methanol, nitric acid and nitrate compounds, manganese, toluene, xylenes, chromium and nickel.

Almost 13 percent of the total pollution was in the form of chemicals such as chromium and its compounds, nickel and its compounds, dichloromethane, styrene and formaldehyde that are known or suspected carcinogens, the study said.

Industrial polluters in just three states — Texas, Ohio and Michigan — and Canada’s Ontario province accounted for 28 percent of the continent’s pollutants, the study found.

The five biggest polluting facilities were operated by ASARCO Inc. in Hayden, Ariz.; US Ecology Idaho Inc. in Grand View, Idaho; Zinc Corp. of America in Monaca, Pa.; Steel Dynamics Inc. in Butler, Ind.; and Kennecott Utah Copper in Magna, Utah, the study said.

The study compared only those chemicals and industries that have consistently reported their pollution each year. It covers most industry in the United States and Canada. Companies in Mexico art just starting to voluntarily report figures, the study said.

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