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Trends Over Time

The last 2 posts have reported specifics on some of the toxic chemicals released into the environment in Missouri in 2017. This post will broaden the view and discuss trends in toxic releases over time.

Figure 1. Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2019b.

To some extent it is difficult to follow trends over time because of changes in the TRI program. Figure 1 shows the national trend in chemicals reported to the EPA over time, and it labels the years in which major changes have occurred in the program. The light blue and sandy yellow show the total amount of toxic chemicals reported, the dark blue and orange show the amount disposed of and released. The total amount of toxic chemicals reported to EPA peaked in 2000 and decreased until 2009, the bottom of a recession. Over that period, the amount decreased by more than 40%. Since 2009, however, the amount has increased by about 50%. The chart shows that most toxic chemicals reported to the EPA are used in manufacturing (light blue).

(Click on chart for larger view.)

It is beyond the scope of this blog to explore why toxic chemicals reported to EPA should drop so significantly, then rebound so significantly. If you know the answer, please comment on this post and let us all know.

The increase concerns me. This series of posts started with a review of several catastrophic releases of toxic chemicals that killed people and poisoned the land, in some cases permanently. Preventing the release of toxic chemicals means that no mistakes can ever be made, and that is simply not within human capability. I view toxic chemicals as similar to time bombs. Sooner or later, one will go off.

Figure 2. Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2018.

Of course, chemicals reported to the EPA are different from releases: what about releases? Figure 2 shows on-site toxic releases in Missouri over time. Because on-site releases represent about 93% of toxic releases in Missouri, I will let this chart represent the trend in total releases. You can see that releases peaked in 2004-2005, and have been trending downward since then. In 2017 they were about 47% of those in 2005, slightly less than half.

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Figure 3. Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2019b.

Figure 3 shows the trend nationwide. The chart I have goes back only to 2007. Since then, the total amount of releases has decreased from just 4.13 billion lb. to 3.85 billion lb., a decrease of 7%.

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Because Missouri has been losing manufacturing over time, the possibility exists that the decline in toxic releases comes from the decline in manufacturing. To look at this possibility, one would want to plot toxic releases against the amount of manufacturing in the state. But what is “the total amount of manufacturing” in a state? Is it the tonnage of goods produced? The economic value produced? The number of factories, or their total square footage? The number of people employed in manufacturing? I can find statistics for manufacturing employment in Missouri, so I will use it.

Figure 4. Data sources: Environmental Protection Agency, 2018; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 2019.

Figure 4 shows the trend over time for toxic releases in Missouri (the blue line, which should be read against the left vertical axis) and manufacturing employment (the red line, which should be read against the right vertical axis). The chart considers toxic releases, not toxics managed. The chart shows that toxic releases and manufacturing employment follow similar trajectories. The correlation between the 2 data series is 0.75, which is fairly high as correlations go.

Correlation, of course, proves nothing. There is a wonderful website dedicated to spurious and absurd correlations (For instance, per capita cheese consumption correlates with the number of people who die by becoming tangled in their bedsheets at 0.95. Check out http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations.) But it seems logical that the decline in toxic releases could be at least partially related to the amount of manufacturing. It would be a wonderful study for some enterprising student.

As I noted in the first post in this series, interpreting data in the TRI is complex. The most serious exposures to toxic chemicals probably happen to people who work with them regularly. You can’t assume that releases translate to public exposure. But you probably can infer the inverse: unless there is a release, the public can’t be exposed. These are poisonous chemicals. Lead, the most released chemical in Missouri, persists and accumulates in the environment and in the human body. I’m thankful that toxic releases have declined in Missouri, and I hope they continue to do so.

Sources:

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.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2019a. Factors to Consider When Using Toxics Release Inventory Data. Downloaded 3/20/2019 from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2019-03/documents/factors_to_consider_march_2019.pdf.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2019b. Toxic Release Inventory: TRI National Analysis 2017. Downloaded 3/20/2019 from https://www.epa.gov/trinationalanalysis/report-sections-tri-national-analysis.

Financial Reserve Bank of St. Louis. FRED Economic Data: Manufacturing Employment in Missouri. FRED is a data portal accessed 3/7/2019 at http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?s[1][id]=MOMFGN.

Most Released Chemical

The previous post discussed the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory. In this post, I will update toxic waste data for Missouri for 2017, the most recent year for which data is available.

Figure 1. Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2018.

Toxics can be managed by (from most desirable to least) reducing their creation at the source, by recycling, by energy recovery, by treatment, or by disposing and/or releasing them. The Figure 1 shows Missouri managed toxic wastes in 2017. The largest amount was used to create energy (often this involves burning in a boiler). The next largest amount was recycled for reuse.

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Figure 2. Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2018.

Toxic releases can occur either onsite at the industrial facility that uses them, or offsite at some toxic materials treatment and storage facility. Materials can be released into the air, they can be discharged into surface water, and they can be dumped on the land. Figure 2 shows Missouri toxic releases by release category in 2017. By far the largest percentage, 80%, is dumped on the land.

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Figure 3. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2019.

The industries responsible for releasing the largest amounts of toxic chemicals are shown in Figure 3. Metal mining was the largest, accounting for almost half of all toxic releases, and electric utilities are second. Releases from the food industry continue to be larger than those from the petroleum, chemicals or plastics & rubber industries, and it continues to blow my mind! The 5 facilities that released the most toxic chemicals in 2017 were the Buick Mine/Mill, the Brushy Creek Mine/Mill, the Fletcher Mine/Mill, the Buick Resource Recycling Facility, and the Sweetwater Mine/Mill.

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The chemicals that are most released in Missouri are shown in Figure 4. Compounds of lead zinc, barium and copper are the most released. The majority of these releases are probably associated with the metal mining industry, and are released on the land. The top 5 chemicals released to air and water are shown in Figure 5. Hydrogen flouride comes mostly from coal burning power plants, while nitrate compounds come mostly from the food industry (think waste from animal feeding operations).

Figure 4. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2019.

Figure 5. Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chemicals that are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) are of most concern to the EPA. These are chemicals that remain in the environment and in the body. They build up over time, meaning that repeated small releases can lead to big trouble. Lead accounts for more than 99% of PBT releases in Missouri.

Mercury compounds are also a PBT of concern. Coal burning power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the United States. In 2017, Mercury emissions in Missouri fell to 4,423 pounds from 9,850 pounds in 2013.

Two other classes of PBTs include polycyclic aromatics and dioxin/dioxin-like compounds. In 2017, 2,924 pounds of polycyclic aromatics were released in Missouri, and 0.08 pounds of dioxin/dioxin-like compounds. That may not seem like much dioxin, but this chemical is is toxic even in very, very small amounts. (EPA 2015).

In the next post I will look at some toxic release trends over time.

Sources:

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.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015. Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic (PBT) Chemicals Covered by the TRI Program. Viewed online 12/2/15 at http://www2.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program/persistent-bioaccumulative-toxic-pbt-chemicals-covered-tri.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2019. TRI Explorer. This is a data portal that allows you to retrieve data regarding toxic releases by state, county, and municipality. It contains information by chemical, by releasing facility, by geography, and by industry. It also allows you to retrieve the data in a time series over several years. Viewed online 3/13/2019 at https://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_release.chemical.

PFAS and Public Water Contamination

A recent article by Julie Turkewitz in the New York Times reports that a group of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have leached into at least 55 drinking water systems at military bases around the globe. The contaminated water may be causing illness in those drinking it, including tumors, thyroid problems, and debilitating fatigue.

The problem is not confined to military bases. As many as 10 million people could be drinking water laced with PFAS, according to the article.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that are used for a large number of purposes around the globe, and they are present in many common consumer items. “There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can leads to adverse human health effects,” as the Environmental Protection Agency puts it. (Environmental Protection Agency, 2018) They are not on the list of toxic chemicals monitored by the EPA, however. After an outcry and concerted campaign by public health scientists, the EPA has agreed to do a comprehensive study of the human health effects of exposure to the chemicals, and to survey exposure levels across the country. (Davenport, 2019)

On the other hand, PFAS represent $19.7 billion in sales to chemical manufacturers, according to another article. (Lipton and Abrams, 2015) DuPont, one of the primary manufacturers, maintains that years of study and experience have proven that the chemicals are safe for their intended use. (Davenport, 2019)

Of course, leaching into the public water supply is not one of their intended uses.

Well, this blog is not about looking into the controversy around this group of chemicals. I thought I’d look and see if I could find any databases that document exposure to them. Lo-and-behold, I did. The EPA’s report on The Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 3): Data Summary, January 2017 contains some information. The National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network contains more.

The data in the EPA report only has reports on PFAS from public water systems serving fewer than 10,000 people. Thus, it represents a small fraction of all public water systems, and an even smaller fraction of the number of people served by public water systems. On the other hand, the data mapped by the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network includes many of the largest public water systems, and covers a substantial portion of the population, at least in Missouri.

In both sets of data, the group of chemicals are listed individually, and it is not clear how much the water systems contaminated by one overlap those contaminated by another. Finally, for several of the chemicals no reference level has been determined. Think of a reference level as something similar to the maximum safe exposure level. Some of these chemicals have not yet been studied that way, that’s why the EPA is undertaking the study mentioned above.

Table 1 lists the chemicals and the number of public water systems in which they were detected from the EPA report:

Table 1. Public Water Systems Contaminated with PFAS:

Chemical Number of Water Systems in Which It Was Detected
PFBS 95
PFOA 117
PFNA 14
PFHx5 55
PFHpA 86
PFBS 8

Data Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2017.

Figures 1-3 map the locations of water systems where PFAS were detected, from the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network. Each map is labelled with the specific chemical being mapped. The orange dots show a single system, the grey dots with numbers show locations where more than one water system had PFAS, but the scale of the map is too small to show them both. The number inside the grey circle shows the number of water systems in that locale where the chemical was detected.

Figure 2. PFOS and PFOA Contamination. Source: Centers for Disease Control, 2019.

Figure 1. PFHpA and PFBS Contamination. Source: Centers for Disease Control, 2019.

Figure 3. PFNA and PFHxS Contamination. Source: Centers for Disease Control, 2019.

Although 87 public water systems in Missouri were sampled, none reported detectable PFAS. The sample covered public water systems that served 3,802,254 people, and included the City of St. Louis Public Water System, the Missouri American St. Louis-St. Charles County Water System, the Kansas City Public Water System, 2 Jackson County Public Water Systems, the Springfield Public Water System, as well as many other large public water systems. The sampling included the Ft. Leonard Wood water system, and no contamination was detected.

For right now, this data seems to suggest that the public drinking water in Missouri may not be contaminated with these chemicals. I wouldn’t say this is the last word, however. The EPA study will hopefully give us a more comprehensive analysis of what the health effects of these chemicals are, how much exposure of what kind is safe, and how much contamination is out there.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control. 2019. National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network. Viewed online 2/22/2019 at https://ephtracking.cdc.gov/DataExplorer/#/.

Davenport, Coral. 2019. “E.P.A. Will Study Limits on Cancer-Linked Chemicals. Critisc Say the Plan Delays Action.” The New York Times, 2/14/2019. Viewed online 2/22/2019 at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/14/climate/epa-chemical-plan-pfas.html?module=inline.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2018. Basic Information on PFAS. Viewed online 2/22/2019 at https://www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2017. The Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UMCR 3): Data Summary, January 2017. Viewed online 2/22/2019 at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-02/documents/ucmr3-data-summary-january-2017.pdf.

Lipton, Eric, and Rachel Abrams. 2015. “Commonly Used Chemicals Come Under New Scrutiny.” The New York Times, 5/1/2015. Viewed online 2/22/2019 at https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/01/business/commonly-used-chemicals-come-under-new-scrutiny.html?module=inline.

Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals

From time-to-time I report on toxic chemicals in the environment, whether it be in fish we eat (here), polluted streams (here), or toxic waste sites (here). People come into contact with these chemicals by eating contaminated food, drinking contaminated water, and breathing contaminated air. I thought it might be interesting to see whether people are carrying a dangerous load of toxic chemicals in their bodies.

It turns out that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was also interested, and they have systematically tested samples of the population of the USA to see which environmental chemicals people are carrying in their blood and urine, and at what levels. They have published their findings in a series of reports, most recently in 2009, and they regularly update the data associated with the report, most recently in 2017.

There is some basic information you need to know in looking at this data. First, the data covers 308 environmental chemicals. There are over 80,000 chemicals registered for use in the USA, however, and the American Chemical Society database contains over 50 million unique chemical substances that have been discovered or created. Very little is known about the toxicity of many of them.

Second, once a toxic chemical enters your body, it seldom remains in the bloodstream for very long. Some chemicals are cleared from the body relatively quickly (often in urine), others migrate into the body’s tissues, where they sometimes persist for decades. Thus, toxic chemicals have two kinds of effects on the body: acute symptoms (those related to high levels in the blood), and chronic effects (which can be caused by even small amounts of some chemicals remaining in the tissues of the body). The CDC surveyed blood and urine levels. Thus, their data would bear most directly on acute symptoms, and would have less to say about long-term chronic exposure at low levels.

Third, most of the chemicals tested by the CDC exist at some level in the environment. You can find them in just about everyone. In fact, many are essential for health. For instance, too much iron in the blood is toxic, but too little can cause iron deficiency anemia.

Our chemical tests have become so sophisticated that they can find traces of chemicals that are smaller than microscopic. Thus, the fact that people carry some level of a chemical in their body is not evidence that it is toxic. Many additional factors need to be taken into account. The CDC reports are intended to provide baseline data.

Rather than get into the hundreds of tables provided in the report, I’ll just report a few headline findings from the Executive Summary:

  • Exposure to some chemicals is widespread.
    • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants used in a wide variety of products) were found in almost all of the subjects tested. These accumulate in the environment and in fatty tissue.
    • Bisphenol A, a component of epoxy resins and polycarbonates, was found in the urine samples of more than 90% of tested subjects.
    • Perfluoroctanoic acid, used in the manufacture of non-stick coatings in cookware, was found in “most” subjects tested.
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  • Figure 1. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009a.

    Because exposure to environmental chemicals is so widespread, it means that many (most?) people are carrying more than one in their body. Very little is known about how (if) they interact. Do they potentiate each other, making even low level exposure dangerous? We just don’t know.

  • Serum levels of lead in children have declined. The CDC has set the upper limit for lead in the blood of adults at 10 micrograms per deciliter. (This is not the safe level for children, but it does provide a marker against which change can be measured.) The percentage of children with a blood level greater than 10 µg./dl. has declined significantly since 1970 (Figure 1). Where once it was 88.2%, now it is 1.4%. This suggests that lead mitigation efforts have been tremendously successful. Some special populations remain at risk, however, especially children living in homes containing lead-based paint.

    Figure 2. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009a.

  • For the first time, the report included data on exposure to mercury. The report found that mercury levels increase with age for all demographic groups, then begin to decline after age 50 (Figure 2). The levels were well below those associated with mercury poisoning. Non-hispanic blacks had the highest blood levels, then Mexican Americans, then non-hispanic whites. I reported on the bioaccumulation of mercury here. Thus, it makes sense that blood levels increase with age. What accounts for the decrease after age 50 and the racial differences? I would put my money on lifestyle differences (where you live, what you do for a living, what you eat), but I don’t really know.
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  • Perchlorate was found in the urine of all subjects. Perchlorate is a chemical used to manufacture fireworks, explosives, flares, and rocket propellant. It’s hard to imagine that those uses would make it ubiquitous in the environment, but on the other hand, 14 billion pounds of bombs were dropped by the United States during the Vietnam War alone. This chemical is known to affect thyroid function, but the maximum safe blood level has not yet been determined. This data will help scientists develop standards for safe and unsafe exposure.

I wish I could report on the chemical burden of people living in Missouri, but the CDC data is not broken out by state, and I have not been able to find a report that addresses the issue.

In summary, the report seems to find that environmental chemicals can be widely detected in the blood or urine of Americans. Safe blood levels have been established for some chemicals, and for those the data seem to show that the mean blood level across all significant groups is within the safe level. There may be special populations in which the blood or urine level is higher. Similarly, the number of chemicals tested is a small fraction of those that have been discovered or created, and about most of them, we know very little.

Sources:

American Chemical Society. 50 Million Unique Chemical Substance Recorded in CAS Registry. Viewed online 4/24/2017 at https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2009/september/50-millionth-unique-chemical-substance-recorded-in-cas-registry.html?_ga=1.43194213.1375747815.1493039805.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Executive Summary, Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals: 2009. National Center for Environmental Health, Division of Laboratory Sciences, Mail Stop F-20, 4770 Buford Highway, NW, Atlanta, GA 30341-3724. Downloaded 4/22/2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals: Updated Tables, January 2017, Volumes One and Two.. National Center for Environmental Health, Division of Laboratory Sciences, Mail Stop F-20, 4770 Buford Highway, NW, Atlanta, GA 30341-3724. Downloaded 4/22/2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Executive Summary, Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals: 2009. National Center for Environmental Health, Division of Laboratory Sciences, Mail Stop F-20, 4770 Buford Highway, NW, Atlanta, GA 30341-3724. Downloaded 4/22/2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport.

Clodfelter, Micheal. 1995. Vietnam in Military Statistics: A History of the Indochina Wars, 1792—1991. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. Cited in Wikipedia. List of Bombs Used in the Vietnam War. Viewed online 5/4/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_bombs_in_the_Vietnam_War.

National Toxicology Program. About NTP. Viewed online 4/24/17 at https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/about/index.html.

New York State Department of Health. Understanding Mercury Exposure Levels. Viewed online 4/24/2017 at https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/chemicals/hsees/mercury/mercury_exposure_levels.htm.

Wikipedia. Iron Poisoning. Viewed online 2/24/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_poisoning.

Toxic Releases Increased in Missouri in 2013

The last 2 posts have reported specifics on some of the toxic chemicals released into the environment in Missouri in 2013. This post will broaden the view and discuss trends in toxic releases over time.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2015c.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2015c.

To some extent it is difficult to follow trends over time because of changes in the TRI program. Since the EPA began tracking toxic chemical releases in 1988, on 5 occasions the types of chemicals tracked has been expanded, or the levels at which reporting was required have been tightened. The first chart at right shows the national trend in chemicals reported to the EPA over time. The total amount of toxic chemicals reported to EPA peaked in 2000 and decreased until 2009, the bottom of a recession. Over that period, the amount decreased by more than 40%. Since 2009, however, the amount has increased by about 25%.

It is beyond the scope of this blog to explore why toxic chemicals reported to EPA should drop so significantly, then rebound so significantly. If you know the answer, please comment on this post and let us all know.

The chart shows that most toxic chemicals reported to the EPA are used in manufacturing productions (light blue). Next largest is production from other sectors (light sandy brown).

Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2015b

Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2015b

Well, chemicals reported to the EPA are different from releases, what about releases? In Missouri, releases increased by 3% between 2012 and 2013. Nationwide, they increased by 15%. Nationwide, the increase came primarily from increases in on-site disposal by the metal mining sector. In Missouri (see previous post), the largest increases came from the petroleum and metal mining industries. The second chart at right shows the data for Missouri. It includes only on-site releases, but as they account for 96% of all releases, the chart can be taken as representative of total releases.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2015a.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2015a.

The third chart shows the trend for the United States. This chart shows data for total releases. Both charts only go back to 2003.

(Click on charts for larger view.)

Because Missouri has been losing manufacturing over time, the possibility exists that the decline in toxic releases comes from the decline in manufacturing. To look at this possibility, one would want to plot toxic releases agains the amount of manufacturing in the state. But what is “the total amount of manufacturing” in a state? Is it the tonnage of goods produced? The economic value produced? The number of factories, or their total square footage? The number of people employed in manufacturing?

Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2015a.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency, 2015a.

The fourth chart at right concerns the United States as a whole, and it uses economic value added as a proxy for total manufacturing. It also concerns toxic waste managed (red columns), not toxic waste released. With those caveats, the 2 data series do seem to follow each other, though not quite perfectly. For Missouri I found a time series of manufacturing employment, and I am using that as a proxy (fifth chart at right, red line). The chart considers toxic releases (blue line), not toxics managed.

Sources: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b. Financial Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 2015.

Data sources: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b. Financial Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 2015.

The chart shows that toxic releases and manufacturing employment do not follow a similar trajectory. Thus, while the decline in Missouri manufacturing may account for some of the decline in toxic releases, the story is more complex.

The fifth chart contains an additional year compared to the second, third, and fourth charts: 2002. Notice that between 2002 and 2003 toxic releases in Missouri increased by 40%. Since 2004, releases have decreased by 37%, but it still only puts us back to the level of releases we had in 2002 – no net improvement.

As I noted in the first post in this series, interpreting data in the TRI is complex. The most serious exposures to toxic chemicals probably happen to people who work with them regularly. You can’t assume that releases translate to public exposure. But you probably can infer the inverse: unless there is a release, the public can’t be exposed. These are poisonous chemicals. Lead, the most released chemical in Missouri, persists and accumulates in the environment and in the human body. It is worrisome to have toxic releases on the increase in Missouri and nationwide.

Sources:

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015a. Toxic Release Inventory: TRI National Analysis 2013.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015b. 2013 TRI Factsheet: State – Missouri. This is a webpage with data released in March, 2015. http://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_factsheet.factsheet_forstate?pZip=&pCity=&pCounty=&pState=MO&pYear=2013&pDataSet=TRIQ2&pParent=NAT&pPrint=1.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015c. Factors to Consider When Using Toxics Release Inventory Data. http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents.factors_to_consider_6.15.15_final.pdf.

Financial Reserve Bank of St. Louis. FRED Economic Data: Manufacturing Employment in Missouri. FRED is a data portal accessed 12/10/15 at http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?s[1][id]=MOMFGN.

Lead Is the Most Released Toxic Chemical in Missouri

In my previous post I discussed the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory. In this post, I will update toxic waste data for Missouri for 2013.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

Toxic releases can occur either onsite at the industrial facility that uses them, or offsite at some toxic materials treatment and storage facility. In Missouri, offsite releases account for only 4% of all releases. Nationally, they account for 2%, even less than in Missouri.

Materials can be released into the air, they can be discharged into surface water, and they can be dumped on the land. The first chart at right shows Missouri toxic releases by release category in 2013. By far the largest percentage, 82%, is dumped on the land.

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Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

Toxics can also be managed by recycling, by energy recovery, by treatment, or by other methods (listed from most desirable to least). The second chart at right shows Missouri managed toxic wastes in 2013. The largest amount is recycled for reuse. The next largest amount is treated to make it less toxic. Note that the total amount managed is more than 5 times the amount released.

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Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

The industries responsible for releasing the largest amounts of toxic chemicals are shown in the third chart. As in 2012, metal mining is the largest, accounting for virtually half of all toxic releases, and electric utilities are second. Releases from the food/beverage/tobacco industry continue to be larger than those from the chemicals or plastics & rubber industries, and it continues to blow my mind! The biggest change from 2012 is that releases from the petroleum industry were significantly reduced. Yearly releases from various industries tend to be volatile, so don’t be too aggressive interpreting a trend.

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Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

The chemicals that are most released in Missouri are shown in the next chart at right. As in 2012, compounds of lead zinc, barium and copper are the most released. The amount of lead and barium released actually increased from 2012. Elemental forms of many of these compounds are also released and tallied separately by the EPA.

Chemicals that are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) are of most concern to the EPA. These are chemicals that remain in the environment and in the body. They build up over time, meaning that repeated small releases can lead to big trouble. Lead accounts for 98% of PBT releases nationwide. In Missouri, lead emissions are driven by mining activities. More lead was released in Missouri in 2012 than any other toxic compound – some 22.6 million pounds of it!

Mercury compounds are also a PBT of concern. Coal burning power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the United States. Nationwide, mercury emissions have been falling, from over 140,000 lb. in 2004 to under 80,000 in 2012. They increased in Missouri, however, rising from 5,004 to 9,850 pounds in 2013. One source in Joplin accounted for more than half of all statewide emissions.

Two other classes of PBTs include polycyclic aromatics and dioxin/dioxin-like compounds. In 2013 522,845 pounds of polycyclic aromatics were released in Missouri, while 0.07 pounds of dioxin/dioxin-like compounds. That may not seem like much dioxin, but this chemical is is toxic even in very, very small amounts. (EPA 2015c).

In the next post I will look at some toxic release trends over time.

Sources:

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015a. Toxic Release Inventory: TRI National Analysis 2013. Available online at www2.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program/2013-tri-national-analysis.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015b. 2013 TRI Factsheet: State – Missouri. This is a webpage with data released in March, 2015. http://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_factsheet.factsheet_forstate?pZip=&pCity=&pCounty=&pState=MO&pYear=2013&pDataSet=TRIQ2&pParent=NAT&pPrint=1.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015c. Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic (PBT) Chemicals Covered by the TRI Program. Web page accessed 12/2/15 at http://www2.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program/persistent-bioaccumulative-toxic-pbt-chemicals-covered-tri.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015d. TRI Explorer, Chemical Report.

Toxic Chemical Waste 2013

This post begins a series to update information on toxic chemical releases in Missouri and nationwide. The most recent data is through 2013.

Many industrial processes require the use of toxic substances. These substances 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.

Cement Creek, Colorado, location of a toxic release in August 2015. Photo by John May.

Cement Creek, Colorado, location of a toxic release in August 2015. The natural color of the rocks is grey. Photo by John May.

These concerns are hardly a thing of the past, however; just this summer, an accident at a mine in Colorado released millions of gallons of water contaminated with toxic heavy metals into Cement Creek (photo at right). 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.

Number of Toxic Release Inventory Sites in Missouri, by County. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

Number of Toxic Release Inventory Sites in Missouri, by County. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

In 2013, 521 facilities in Missouri were covered by the Toxic Release Inventory, and 21,707 nationwide. On the map at right, each green circle represents a county in Missouri, with the number of TRI sites inside the circle. On the map at the TRI website, if you click on a green circle, the name of the county will pop up with some additional information. Unfortunately, the TRI website does not seem to have this map available for download in a form that labels the counties. The three counties with the most sites are Jackson County (45), Green County (27), and Franklin County (24). 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.

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Missouri data in the blue columns should be read on the left axis. U.S. data in the red line should be read on the right axis. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

Missouri data in the blue columns should be read on the left axis. U.S. data in the red line should be read on the right axis. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

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The chart at right shows the data for Missouri and for the United States. About 84% of Missouri toxics are managed, only 16% are released. For the United States as a whole, a slightly higher percentage is managed, but really, the percentages are similar. Even though only 16% of toxic materials are released in Missouri, that still amounts to 72 million lb. In the following posts I’ll look into the releases in more detail.

Sources:

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015a. Toxic Release Inventory: TRI National Analysis 2013.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015b. 2013 TRI Factsheet: State – Missouri. This is a webpage with data released in March, 2015. http://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_factsheet.factsheet_forstate?pZip=&pCity=&pCounty=&pState=MO&pYear=2013&pDataSet=TRIQ2&pParent=NAT&pPrint=1.