This post updates information on toxic chemical releases in Missouri and nationwide. The most recent data is through 2017.
Many industrial processes require the use of toxic substances. They must be properly handled to prevent harm to people, land, and water. During the 1970s and early 1980s concerns grew about how toxic substances were being handled. For instance, tons of toxic waste were discovered dumped in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls. Oil containing dioxin was sprayed on the streets of Times Beach, Missouri, turning it into a ghost town; people can’t live there to this day. In 1984, a malfunction at a chemical plant in Bhopal, India released a cloud of poisonous gas that killed more than 3,000 people overnight, and 15,000 – 20,000 eventually (5-7 times as many as were killed in the 9/11 attacks). Shortly thereafter, a serious release of toxic gas occurred in Institute, West Virginia.
These concerns are hardly a thing of the past, however. The same plant in Institute West Virginia exploded in 2008, killing 2 and injuring 8. In 2015, an accident at the Gold King Mine in Colorado released 3 million of gallons of water contaminated with toxics like cadmium, lead, and arsenic into Cement Creek (see Figure 1). Cement Creek flows into the Animas River, the only water source for several cities in Colorado and New Mexico.
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 activities of toxic materials.
The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program of the EPA gathers this information and makes it available to the public on their website. In addition, they publish an annual report covering the whole country, plus fact sheets for each of the 50 states. The TRI data does not cover all toxic materials and all facilities, but it does cover an important set of them.
After being used, toxic substances can be managed or released into the environment. In decreasing order of preference, managing them can mean improving industrial processes to use less toxic material to start with, recycling them, burning them to generate electricity, or treating them to make them less toxic. Where toxic materials are not managed, they can be injected into wells, stored, landfilled, emitted into the air, discharged into surface water, or spread over the land. They can be handled either on-site or off-site. Determining whether any of these activities represent a potential hazard to people, land, or water is complex. One cannot simply assume, for instance, that on-site means safe. On the other hand, one cannot assume that emission or discharge of the substance means that there is toxic exposure. The statistics in the TRI are only a starting point, and many factors must be taken into consideration when analyzing TRI data.
In 2017, 502 facilities in Missouri were covered by the Toxic Release Inventory. That’s down from 521 in 2013. Nationwide, 21,456 facilities were covered by the Toxic Release Inventory. That’s down from 21,707 in 2013. Figure 2 maps the number of sites within each county in Missouri. On the map at the TRI website, clicking on the green circle will allow you to access more detailed information for that county. Unfortunately, the TRI website does not seem to have this map available for download in a form that labels the counties. The counties with the most sites are Jackson County (42, down from 45 in 2013), Green County (30, up from 27 in 2013), and Franklin and Jasper Counties (each with 21).
Having the most TRI sites does not necessarily mean the most toxic releases. One reason is that by far the most toxic waste is managed. The Figures 3 and 4 show the data for Missouri and for the United States. About 88% of Missouri toxics were managed in 2017, only 12% were released. For the United States as a whole, a slightly higher percentage is managed (89%), but really, the percentages are similar. Even though only 12% of toxic materials are released in Missouri, that still amounts to 53 million lb.
In the following posts I’ll look into the releases in more detail.
Environmental Protection Agency. 2018. 2017 TRI Factsheet: State – Missouri. Downloaded 3/7/2019 from https://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_factsheet.factsheet_forstate?&pstate=MO&pyear=2017&pParent=TRI&pDataSet=TRIQ1pZip=&pCity=&pCounty=&pState=MO&pYear=2013&pDataSet=TRIQ2&pParent=NAT&pPrint=1.