Friday, January 25, 2013

Washington State’s Reported Toxic Releases Go Down Again in 2011

by Diane Fowler, Toxics Release Inventory Coordinator, Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction Program

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently posted its latest analysis of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data. While the national data show a 9% (300 million pounds) increase in on-site releases for 2011, on-site releases in Washington have decreased 19% (3.5 million pounds). This continues Washington’s downward trend since the first TRI data was collected in 1987. This is encouraging news!

TRI On-site Releases Reported in Washington from 2001- 2011

(click to enlarge)
The TRI is a publicly available database of detailed information on nearly 650 chemicals and chemical categories managed by more than 21,000 industrial and federal facilities. This management includes disposal or other releases, recycling, energy recovery, or treatment. A TRI “on-site release” of a chemical means that it is emitted to the air or water, or placed in some type of land disposal.

In 2011, 316 Washington facilities reported releasing 15.3 million pounds of toxic chemicals to air, land, or water. Washington ranks 36th in the nation for total TRI chemicals reported released. Most of these releases were to air.

Total annual TRI releases have decreased in Washington State for more than a decade. There are two notable exceptions.

First, Washington’s TRI totals increased dramatically in 2004 with the reopening of the Pend Oreille Mine. The mine operated for a few years, then closed in early 2009. TRI releases from the mine were primarily lead compounds and zinc compounds placed in surface impoundments, a disposal method for waste within the boundary of a facility.

Second, Hanford’s clean-up activities added millions of pounds of lead to 2010’s TRI. As Hanford removes old buildings from its federal facility, it also removes the lead that these buildings contain for shielding against radiation. Hanford disposed of this lead in a landfill, but it is considered a release to land under TRI.

Find out about releases of toxic chemicals – it’s your right to know!

You can easily access EPA’s data about releases of toxic chemicals to better understand the types and amounts of releases, and the potential risks in your community related to those releases. TRI is an especially important source of data for environmental releases of chemicals of particular concern, such as mercury, dioxins, and other persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals.

Check it out! Many online tools will help you access TRI data. Here are a few of them:

Envirofacts provides access to TRI and other EPA databases that contain information about environmental activities that may affect air, water, and land anywhere in the United States. With Envirofacts, users can learn more about these environmental activities in their area or generate maps of environmental information.

TRI Explorer is a database tool that allows custom searches of TRI data to help communities identify facilities and chemical releases or other waste management activities that warrant further study and analysis. Combined with hazard and exposure information, the TRI Explorer can be a valuable tool for identifying potential chemical hazards in communities.

The Risk Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) provides users with additional understanding of chronic human health issues and potential exposures associated with TRI chemicals. RSEI is a screening-level model that combines TRI information on the amount of toxic chemical releases with other risk factors to help assess the relative hazard and risk of chemicals, facilities, and industries.

You are also invited to contact Washington State Department of Ecology’s TRI and Community Right-to-Know staff at (360) 407-6171 or (800) 633-7585. They are available for presentations and able to provide much more information about hazardous substances and wastes generated in Washington’s communities.

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