PRTR systems were established in several countries after the 1984 Bhopal Disaster, (the Bhopal disaster, also referred to as the Bhopal gas tragedy, was a gas leak incident in India, considered the world's worst industrial disaster).

The Environmental Protection Agency's TRI Program was established in 1986 as the first Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) in the world. Since then, environmental agencies across the world have been increasingly implementing their own PRTR programs using TRI as a model.

Currently, at least 50 countries have fully established PRTRs or have implemented pilot programs. Many more PRTRs are expected to be developed over the coming years, particularly in Central and South American countries.

The TRI Program works closely with international organizations to:

- Assist in the development of PRTR programs in other countries
- Encourage other countries to develop initiatives aimed at making existing PRTR data more comparable to allow better analysis of the data on a continental or global scale
- Make the data more useful for assessing progress towards sustainability

The TRI Program participates in activities to help develop PRTR programs in other countries. These organizations and activities include:
- Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
- Commission for Environmental Cooperation
- United Nations Institute for Training and Research

Agenda 21, non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan, from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro, 1992, lays out specific goals and objectives for countries to strive to meet for the 21st Century. As made clear in Chapter 19 of Agenda 21 an emissions inventory is an approach government could take to collect data about pollutants while providing public access to the information to reduce risks from chemicals. Chapter 19 further states that the broadest possible awareness of chemical risks is a prerequisite for chemical safety. Agenda 21 also points out that industry should provide data for substances produced specifically for the assessment of potential risks to human health and the environment. These data should be made available to national authorities, international bodies and other interested parties involved in hazard and risk assessment and to the public to the greatest extent possible, taking into account legitimate claims for confidentiality.

The OECD began work to encourage development of PRTRs in 1993, as a follow-up to a United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. OECD works with governments, industry, and non-governmental organizations to develop practical tools to support efforts of member countries, provide outreach to non-member countries, and coordinate international activities.

To help member countries implement efficient and effective Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR) systems, OECD produces documents describing the experiences of countries that have already developed PRTRs; current and emerging uses of PRTR data; how PRTRs differ; and the identification, selection, and adaptation of release estimation techniques that industry can use to calculate pollutant releases and transfers.

Through its PRTR Task Force, the OECD coordinates PRTR activities among its members and non-member partner countries. The Task Force's goal is to enable countries with PRTRs to share experiences, and to improve PRTR information and its use by working collaboratively on activities of mutual interest and global importance. Non-OECD countries that plan to implement PRTRs are encouraged to collaborate with the Task Force.

Current PRTR-related activities include developing methods to make PRTR data from different countries more comparable to enable the use of PRTRs on a continental and global scale, developing and cataloging techniques for estimating emissions from point and nonpoint sources, and promoting the use of PRTR information as a way to assess progress toward global sustainability.

Three countries and their respective Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs) are affiliated with the CEC: the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Canada's PRTR program is the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) and is maintained by Environment Canada. Mexico's PRTR program is the Registro de Emisiones y Transferencia de Contaminantes (RETC) and is maintained by Mexico's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (La Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT)).

The CEC annually publishes its Taking Stock report, which presents and analyzes PRTR data from the Canadian National Pollutant Release Inventory, the U.S. Toxics Release Inventory, and Mexico's Registro de Emisiones y Transferencia de Contaminantes.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the ‘Aarhus Convention’) grants the public rights to access environmental information. On 21 May 2003 in Kiev, Ukraine, parties to the Aarhus Convention adopted the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTR), which entered into force on 8 October 2009 and currently has 33 parties. As of 31 December 2003, the following 36 States had signed the Protocol: Armenia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ukraine and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In addition, the European Community had signed the Protocol and as a signatory to the Protocol it has passed a Regulation (EC No 166/2006) to implement it. The Regulation defines minimum levels of activity and pollution above which information must be reported. It also goes beyond the PRTR Protocol by requiring Member States to report information on an additional five pollutants and imposing more stringent reporting thresholds for another six.

In Europe PRTR systems replaced EPER at both the national and European level and now the PRTR is considerably more comprehensive than the EPER. The European Regulation on Pollutant Release and Transfer Register entered into force on the 24 February 2006 (E-PRTR Regulation). The Regulation requires operators of industries regulated by SEPA and falling under the activities listed in Annex I of the Regulation to report their releases and transfers to the European Commission on an annual basis starting in 2007.

The E-PRTR Regulation is in response to the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice on Environmental Matters “the Aarhus Convention” issued by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE). In addition to the Member States of the European Union, it also includes data from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway Serbia and Switzerland.

All UN Member States can join the Protocol, including those which have not ratified the Aarhus Convention and those which are not members of the Economic Commission for Europe. It is by design an 'open' global treaty. Although the period for signature of the Protocol closed on 31 December 2003, the Protocol is open for accession (from 1 January 2004) by States and regional economic integration organizations constituted by sovereign States members of the United Nations to which their member States have transferred competence over matters governed by this Protocol (articles 24 and 26).

As of 20 May 2016, the Protocol has been ratified by 34 countries and the European Union.


This web page was developed within the project “Support Establishment and Advancement of Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs) in Western Balkan Countries and in Moldova” funded by the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany under the Program Consultative Support (AAP) for Environmental Protection in the Central and Eastern European Countries, the Caucasus and Central Asia and other countries neighboring the European Union, supervised by the German Environment Agency (UBA),  and implemented by  the Regional Environmental Center (REC), in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and the EcoContact Public Association.