EPA Releases Annual National Chemical Release Inventory – Releases Up 16%

On January 5th, the US EPA released its annual national analysis of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The TRI program publishes information on toxic chemical disposals and other releases into the air, land, and water, as well as information on waste management and pollution prevention activities in neighborhoods across the country. Total releases including disposals for the latest reporting year, 2010, are higher than the previous two years but lower than 2007 and prior year totals. Many of the releases from TRI facilities are regulated under various EPA programs and requirements designed to limit human and environmental harm.

The 2010 TRI data show that 3.93 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released into the environment nationwide, a 16 percent increase from 2009. The increase is mainly due to changes in the metal mining sector, which typically involves large facilities handling large volumes of material. In this sector, even a small change in the chemical composition of the ore being mined — which EPA understands is one of the reasons for the increase in total reported releases — may lead to big changes in the amount of toxic chemicals reported nationally. Several other sectors also reported increases in toxic releases in 2010, including the chemical and primary metals industries.

Total air releases decreased six percent since 2009, continuing a trend seen over the past several years. Releases into surface water increased nine percent and releases into land increased 28 percent since 2009, again due primarily to the metal mining sector.

EPA said it improved this year’s TRI national analysis report by adding new information on facility efforts to reduce pollution and by considering whether economic factors could have affected the TRI data. With this report and EPA’s web-based TRI tools, the public can access information about the toxic chemical releases into the air, water, and land that occur locally.

Multiple industry sectors including manufacturing, metal mining, electric utilities, and commercial hazardous waste facilities submit TRI data annually to EPA and states. Facilities must report their toxic chemical releases to EPA under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) by July 1st of each year. The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 also requires information on waste management activities related to TRI chemicals.

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