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EPA report shows toxic air emissions down – but not everywhere

TRI National Analysis reveals positive ten-year trend in chemical releases

Posted January 16, 2017

EPA recently released its annual Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis, showing that releases of toxic chemicals into the air fell 56 percent from 2005-2015 at most industrial facilities that submit data to the TRI program. However, certain states, such as Vermont and Rhode Island, experienced increases in toxic air emissions from 2014-2015. Even in those states, though, EPA touts a positive trend toward cleaner air over the past decade.

EPA says that an eight percent decrease from 2014 to 2015 at facilities reporting to the program contributed to the decline. Chemicals with significant decreases in air emissions at TRI-covered facilities include hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, toluene, and mercury.

According to the report, combined hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid air releases fell more than 566 million pounds, mercury more than 76,000 pounds, and toluene more than 32 million pounds at TRI-covered facilities. Coal- and oil-fired electric utilities accounted for more than 90 percent of nationwide reductions in air releases of hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and mercury from 2005 to 2015 in facilities reporting to the program. EPA believes the reasons for these reductions include a shift from coal to other fuel sources, the installation of control technologies, and implementation of environmental regulations.

Waste management

Facilities reporting to the TRI program also report on their waste management activities. The report shows that in 2015, of the 26 billion pounds of total chemical waste managed at TRI-covered industrial facilities, approximately 92 percent was not released into the environment due to the use of preferred waste management practices such as recycling, energy recovery, and treatment. This calculation does not include the metal mining sector, which presents only limited opportunities for pollution prevention.

EPA, states, and tribes receive TRI data annually from facilities in industry sectors such as manufacturing, metal mining, electric utilities, and commercial hazardous waste management. Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), facilities must report their toxic chemical releases for the prior calendar year to EPA by July 1 of each year. The Pollution Prevention Act also requires facilities to submit information on pollution prevention and other waste management activities of TRI chemicals. Nearly 22,000 facilities submitted TRI data for calendar year 2015.

TRI data is searchable by the public, and reveals information about the chemical releases and waste management practices about the facilities located in the community.

New to the TRI program

The newly released report includes a section highlighting the new Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (aka TSCA Reform). This section focuses on the overlap between TRI chemicals and chemicals designated as Work Plan chemicals by EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

In addition, the TRI National Analysis website includes new interactive features such as an automated “flipbook” depicting how the TRI program has changed over the past three decades, and a new embedded dashboard that allows users to build customized visualizations of TRI data by a chemical or a sector.

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