WASHINGTON, DC – Total toxic air releases in 2011 declined eight percent from 2010, mostly because of decreases in hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions, even while total releases of toxic chemicals increased for the second year in a row, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) annual Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) report.
The TRI program collects information on certain toxic chemical releases to the air, water and land, as well as information on waste management and pollution prevention activities by facilities across the country. TRI data are submitted annually to EPA, states and tribes by facilities in industry sectors such as manufacturing, metal mining, electric utilities and commercial hazardous waste facilities.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson reported, “Since 1998, we have recorded a steady decline in the amount of TRI chemicals released into the air, and since 2009 alone, we have seen more than a 100 million pound decrease in TRI air pollutants entering our communities.”
Among the HAPs showing decline were hydrochloric acid and mercury. Likely reasons for the decreases seen over the past several years include installation of control technologies at coal-fired power plants and a shift to other fuel sources. Releases into surface water decreased three percent and releases to land increased 19 percent since 2010, with the latter due primarily to the metal mining sector.
The 2011 TRI data show that 4.09 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were disposed of or released into the environment (i.e., air, water or land), an eight percent increase from 2010. The difference is mainly due to increases in land disposal at metal mines, which typically involve large facilities handling large volumes of material. In this sector, even a small change in the chemical composition of the ore being mined can lead to big changes in the amount of toxic chemicals reported nationally. Other industry sectors also saw smaller increases in releases, including the hazardous waste management sector.