EPA Sets New Early Record for Providing Chemical Release Data

EPA's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data is available this year earlier than ever before for local communities and national analysis. Facility-specific data was released last September, and the full national data was unveiled on March 22.

"EPA is getting quality data out to the public faster through electronic reporting which is good for the environment, good for states and good for our partners in industry," said EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Environmental Information Molly O'Neill.

Review of the last five years of data shows chemical releases reported to TRI have decreased by 22 percent nationally, officials said. However, the 2005 data shows a 3-percent increase overall in total disposal and other releases. The 23,461 facilities that reported to EPA's TRI Program totaled 4.34 billion pounds of on-site and off-site disposal or other releases of the almost 650 toxic chemicals. More than 88 percent of the amount was disposed of or otherwise released on-site; almost 12 percent was sent off-site for disposal or other releases.

Annual changes are not unusual, agency officials said. A number of possible reasons for the increase include: production increases, fluctuations in the content of raw materials used in particular industries or changes in releases at large facilities that impacts the national data.

On the same day EPA announced the TRI data for 2005, an environmental group also released its own report on chemical releases that uses information from the federal TRI. The report by U.S. PIRG, the federation of state public interest research groups (PIRGs), states that due to a recent EPA action restricting the public's right-to-know, this report may provide one of the last complete pictures of toxic pollution.

"To address the potential health threats from toxic pollution, we need complete information about what toxics are being released, where, and in what amounts," said U.S. PIRG staff attorney Alex Fidis. "These toxics are the worst of the worst and pose tangible threats to public health that must be addressed."

EPA stated that this year's data shows that progress is being made in reducing releases of several chemicals of special concern. For example, between 2004 and 2005 dioxin releases decreased by 23 percent and mercury releases fell by 9 percent. In addition, several individual industries have made significant progress in reducing releases. Petroleum refining releases dropped 10 percent transportation equipment registered a six percent decrease and chemical manufacturing cut releases by four percent.

Some 95 percent of the 23,000 facilities used electronic reporting, which was instrumental in making the information available to the public quicker and more efficiently than in previous years, agency officials said.

TRI tracks the chemicals and industrial sectors specified by the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986 and its amendments. The Pollution Prevention Act (PPA) of 1990 also mandates that TRI reports must include data on toxic chemicals treated on-site, recycled, and burned for energy recovery. Together, these laws require facilities in certain industries to report annually on releases, disposal and other waste management activities related to these chemicals.

In December 2006, EPA announced final rules that loosen reporting requirements for the TRI. In February, U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Hilda L. Solis (D-CA) and U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced companion bills in their respected chambers that will undo the relaxed standards.

The TRI data for 2005 can be found at http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/tri05/index.htm. The U.S. PIRG report can be accessed at http://www.uspirg.org.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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