EPA’s 2011 Toxics Release Inventory shows air pollutants continue to decline, releases of toxic chemicals up
Total toxic air releases in 2011 declined 8% from 2010, mostly because of decreases in hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions, even while total releases of toxic chemicals increased for the second year in a row, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) annual Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) report published today.
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. TRI data are submitted annually to EPA, states and tribes by facilities in industry sectors such as manufacturing, metal mining, electric utilities, and commercial hazardous waste facilities.
Among the HAPs showing decline were hydrochloric acid and mercury. Likely reasons for the decreases seen over the past several years include installation of control technologies at coal fired power plants and a shift to other fuel sources. Releases into surface water decreased 3% and releases to land increased 19% since 2010, with the latter again due primarily to the metal mining sector.
Many of the releases from TRI facilities are regulated under various EPA programs and requirements designed to limit harm to people’s health and the environment.
The 2011 TRI data show that 4.09 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were disposed of or released into the environment (i.e., air, water or land), an 8% increase from 2010. The difference is mainly due to increases in land disposal at metal mines, which typically involve 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 asserted reasons for the increase in total reported releases—can lead to big changes in the amount of toxic chemicals reported nationally. Other industry sectors also saw smaller increases in releases, including the hazardous waste management sector.
Facilities must report their toxic chemical releases to EPA under the Federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) by the beginning of July each year. The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 also requires information on waste management activities related to TRI chemicals. Also, EPA’s TRI mobile application, myRTK, geographically displays nearby facilities that report to the TRI program, as well as facilities with EPA air, water or hazardous waste program permits.