Air Pollutants Decline and Total Toxic Chemicals Increase in 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a news release on January 16 that described the results of the 2011 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). 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”.  Many different facilities and industries are required to submit data that contributes to this report including manufacturing, metal mining, electric utilities, and commercial hazardous waste facilities.

“The Toxics Release Inventory provides widespread access to valuable environmental information. It plays a critical role in EPA’s efforts to hold polluters accountable and identify and acknowledge those who take steps to prevent pollution,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Since 1998, we have recorded a steady decline in the amount of TRI chemicals released into the air, and since 2009 alone, we have seen more than a 100 million pound decrease in TRI air pollutants entering our communities. This remarkable success is due in part to the TRI program and concerted efforts by industry, regulators and public interest groups to clean up the air we all depend upon.”

The total toxic air releases for 2011 declined by 8% from the 2010 data, mostly because of decreases in hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions.  Hydrochloric acid and mercury are two of the HAPs that showed a decline in 2011.  The EPA has stated that this is most likely due to installation of control technologies at coal fired power plants and the use of alternative fuel sources.

Overall, the total releases of toxic chemicals increased in 2011 and the EPA attributes most of this increase to the metal mining industry.  While releases to surface water decreased by 3%, releases to land increased by 19% since 2010.  In total, 4.09 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were disposed of or released into the environment in 2011.  This is an 8% increase from 2010.

The TRI report includes some new information this year, including “information about facility efforts to reduce pollution, insights into why air releases are declining, and an enhanced analysis of releases on tribal lands”.

The EPA has offers a mobile application, myRTK, that allows the user to find nearby facilities that report to the TRI program and facilities that have EPA air, water or hazardous waste permits. This application can be found here.

The 2011 TRI analysis and TRI web-based tools can be found here.

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