In February, 2013, I published a post on the Toxic Release Inventory with data through 2011. This post updates the information for 2012, the most recent year available.
Many industrial processes use or produce toxic substances. These substances must be properly handled to prevent harm to people, land, and water. After a series of disasters in the 1970s and 1980s, Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act in 1986, and the Pollution Prevention Act in 1990. These laws require facilities to report releases, transfers, and waste management of toxic material.
The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) of the EPA gathers this information and makes it available to the public on their website. In addition, they publish annual fact sheets and analyses. The TRI data does not cover all toxic materials or facilities, but it does cover an important set of them. New for 2012, releases of hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas that smells like rotten eggs, have been included in the data.
Toxic substances are recycled, burned to generate electricity, injected into wells, stored, landfilled, emitted into the air, discharged into surface water, and spread over the land. They can be handled either on-site or off-site. Determining whether any of these activities represents a potential hazard to people, land, or water is complex. One cannot simply assume that on-site means safe, or that emission or discharge means that there is toxic exposure. The statistics in the TRI are only a starting point.
In the graph at right, the blue line shows total releases and disposal of toxic materials in Missouri from 2002-2012. In 2007, the EPA changed the minimum reporting threshold from 2,000 to 5,000 pounds, suggesting that comparisons between years may not be valid. Over the entire time period, toxic releases and disposal decreased by 4%. While there does not appear to be a significant discontinuity in the data following 2007, the data shows a rapid increase until 2005, followed by a rapid decrease. The percentage differences are very large: between 2002 and 2004 the increase was 56% From 2004-2012, the decrease was 39%. Such large , rapid changes may, indeed, reflect changes in data gathering rather than actual changes in the amount of toxic materials. A report tracking the changes and making an “apples-to-apples” comparison across years would be most welcome. If you know of one, let me know about it by posting a comment.
Interestingly, Missouri releases declined 2% between 2011 and 2012, despite the addition of sulfur dioxide to the list. Some other data suggests that Missouri may lag the nation by a couple of years in implementing changes, so it will be interesting to follow this trend in upcoming years.
My next post will explore the industries and the chemicals that account for the most toxic releases.
State Fact Sheet, TRI Explorer, 2012. http://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_broker_statefs.broker?p_view=STCO&SFS=YES&trilib=TRIQ1&state=MO&year=2012.
Manufacturing Employment in Missouri, FRED Economic Data, Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis, http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?s[id]=MOMFGN.