Each year, facilities in Washington and across the country report on the toxic chemicals they release into our air, land, water, or send off site for disposal.
These reports are part of the national Toxics Release Inventory, or TRI, which requires over 20,000 facilities across the country to report on releases of 675 different toxic chemicals.
Those 675 chemicals were chosen because they cause cancer, harmful health effects, or harm our environment. The TRI list includes familiar chemicals like mercury, lead and zinc. It also covers more obscure chemicals like pyridine, which is used to dissolve substances or to make pesticides, adhesives, food flavorings, dyes and other products.
TRI was created under federal Community Right-to-Know laws. It’s your right to know what chemicals you may be exposed to, so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology make the data available for you to search. This year marks the 30th anniversary of TRI.
EPA says that TRI data is intended to help communities:
- Learn how many reporting facilities operate in their area and where they are located.
- Identify which chemicals are being released by these facilities.
- Track increases or reductions of toxic chemicals released from facilities.
- Compare the toxic chemical releases and pollution prevention efforts of facilities in one location with similar facilities across the country.
- Prioritize efforts to reduce pollution from facilities located in the area.
An important fact to understand about the TRI data is that it includes both intentional releases that occur as part of a manufacturing process, and unintentional releases from a spill or accident. Most TRI releases are allowed by law or by permit - facilities must report if they are in certain industries and use a TRI-listed chemical in large enough amounts.
The latest numbers were just released for the 2014 reporting year (the data lags a year behind because of EPA reporting deadlines and the need to verify and analyze the information).
Releases in WashingtonSo, what did 2014 look like in Washington? Some quick facts:
- 324 Washington facilities reported releasing 112 different chemicals.
- On-site releases totaled 17.8 million pounds – an increase of more than 1 million pounds.
- Land releases increased by 28 percent, while air and water releases decreased.
- Lead was the chemical released in the largest amount - nearly 4 million pounds. Methanol was a close second.
In 2014, Hanford cleanup activities accounted for 62 percent of Washington’s total land releases. In fact, the overall number of pounds released in Washington would have decreased if Hanford’s report stayed the same as it was in 2013. Hanford will likely report lead releases for as long as cleanup continues at the site.
Hanford cleanup accounted for 62% of Washington’s total land releases
Most 2014 methanol releases came from Washington's pulp, paper and paperboard mills. Methanol is a byproduct of “cooking” wood products in chemicals to extract cellulose. The methanol is usually captured and treated, but some escapes.
We’ve summarized the latest results for Washington TRI facilities on our website. You can view by:
- Highest amounts of chemicals released
- Facilities that reported the highest amounts of released chemicals
Are these releases safe?Just because a toxic chemical is released in your neighborhood doesn’t necessarily mean you’re exposed to it. Unfortunately, knowing whether you’re at risk isn’t easy.
TRI is just one piece of the puzzle. The EPA advises that, “although TRI can't tell you whether or to what extent you've been exposed to these chemicals, it can be used as a starting point in evaluating potential risks to human health and the environment.”
You can use TRI information to:
- Start conversations with your local elected officials, community groups, neighborhood associations, schools, environmental organizations and other community stakeholders.
- Encourage local facilities to prevent pollution and find safer alternatives to toxics.
EPA also provides a geographically-based modeling tool that helps analyze toxics releases. Learn more about the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators Model.
You can also:
- Learn more about environmental quality in your area with EPA’s MyEnvironment tool.
- Find more TRI search tools.
- Look up compliance records for local facilities in EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online.
- Report a spill or suspected violation.
Along with helping businesses reduce their use of toxic chemicals, we also make sure they are following environmental laws designed to protect people, wildlife, and our environment.