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2009 TRI Data Shows Sharp Decline in Chemical Releases

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s annual national analysis of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data is reporting a sharp decline in releases of chemicals listed under the program.  The TRI program publishes information on toxic chemical disposals and releases into the air, land and water, as well as information on waste management and pollution prevention activities in neighborhoods across the country.  In 2009, 3.37 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released into the environment–a 12 percent decrease from 2008.

The analysis, which includes data on approximately 650 chemicals from more than 20,000 facilities, found that total releases to air decreased 20 percent since 2008, while releases to surface water decreased 18 percent.  Releases to land decreased 4 percent since 2008.

According to EPA, its analysis shows decreases in the releases of persistent, bio-accumulative, and toxic chemicals including lead, dioxin, and mercury.  Total disposal or other releases of mercury decreased 3 percent since 2008, while total disposal or other releases of both dioxin and lead decreased by 18 percent.  EPA’s analysis also reveals a 7 percent decrease in the number of facilities reporting to TRI from the previous year, continuing a trend from the past few years. Some of this decline may be attributed to the economic downturn; however, EPA said it plans to investigate why some facilities reported in 2008 but not 2009.

In November, EPA added 16 chemicals to the TRI list that were characterized as reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens, by the National Toxicology Program–the only addition to the list by EPA in the past decade. Data on the new TRI chemicals will be reported by facilities on July 1, 2012.

TRI was established in 1986 by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and later modified by the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990.  Together, these laws require facilities in certain industries to report annually on releases, disposal and other waste management activities related to these chemicals.  TRI data are submitted annually to EPA and states by multiple industry sectors including manufacturing, metal mining, electric utilities, and commercial hazardous waste facilities.

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One thought on “2009 TRI Data Shows Sharp Decline in Chemical Releases

  1. While this is good news, TRI no longer reflects the dominant trends in the production and use of toxic substances. These good TRI numbers reflect both the efficiency work done by very large facilities and the emergence of green chemistry / bio-based materials replacing toxics inputs. But other macro trends in toxics remain disturbing. First, the “most toxic” chemical production and manufacturing processes continue to move to Asia where they cannot be tracked and are not controlled. Second, many more toxic substances, in both number and severity, are formulated into products. TRI tracks only “releases” at the manufacturing facility, it does not track chemicals mixed into products which are sold then released into the environment when used by another factory or the consumer. TRI numbers make it look like we are improving but, sadly, we are not.

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