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Air Pollutants Decline, Total Toxic Chemical Releases Up

Total toxic air releases in 2011 declined 8 percent from 2010, but total releases of toxic chemicals increased for the second year in a row, according to EPA’s annual Toxics Release Inventory report, published yesterday.

EPA attributes the decline to decreases in hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions including hydrochloric acid and mercury.

The 2011 TRI data show that facilities disposed of or released into the environment 4.09 billion pounds of toxic chemicals — an 8 percent increase from 2010. EPA says the increase is largely due to more land disposal at metal mines, which typically involve large facilities handling large volumes of material.

Other industry sectors, including hazardous waste management, reported smaller increases in releases.

The TRI program collects information on certain toxic chemical releases to the air, water and land, as well as information on waste management and pollution prevention activities by facilities across the country. Industries including manufacturing, metal mining, electric utilities and commercial hazardous waste submit TRI data annually to EPA. The agency regulates many of the releases from TRI facilities to limit harm to people’s health and the environment.

According to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, the program has recorded a decline in the amount of TRI chemicals released into the air since 1998. Since 2009, EPA has recorded more than a 100 million pound decrease in TRI air pollutants. Likely reasons for the decreases in HAPs seen over the past several years include installation of control technologies at coal fired power plants and a shift to other fuel sources, EPA says.

Releases into surface water decreased three percent and releases to land increased 19 percent since 2010, with the latter again due primarily to the metal mining sector.

The EPA’s 2010 national TRI analysis found that Teck American, Dow Chemical and Incobrasa Industires reported generating the largest quantities of toxic chemicals in production-related waste.

A report published earlier this month by the Environmental Integrity Project found emissions increased or showed little change at seven of the 10 worst mercury-emitting coal-fired power plants in 2011, compared to 2010.

A July 2012 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, NPR and The Charleston Gazette said diagnoses of black lung, a disease that scars coal miners’ lungs, have doubled over the past decade.

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