EPA released its 1998 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data May 11, 2000. The data for the first time include information from seven industrial sectors, including electric utilities, mining, chemical wholesalers, petroleum bulk plants, and hazardous waste treatment.
By expanding the sectors covered by the inventory, EPA reported total toxic emissions for 1998 of 7.3 billion pounds–nearly triple 1997’s figure. The new industries accounted for 67.4 percent of total emissions reported in 1998.
Industry observers were quick to note the TRI data, by themselves, say little about the threat to human health or the environment posed by the reported emissions.
For example, electric utilities accounted for some 15 percent of reported emissions in 1998. But those emissions do not threaten public health, noted Paul Bailey, vice president of environment at Edison Electric Institute (EEI), citing a 1998 EPA report to Congress and a recent paper by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. The Harvard analysis concluded, “Although this industry will report large quantities of emissions, the resulting risk to public health is minimal. This illustrates why TRI should be revamped to consider risks as well as emissions.”
The metal mining industry accounted for nearly half of the reported emissions, some 3.5 billion pounds. Environmental groups used the data to bolster their continuing attack against the industry. Ralph Nader’s U.S. Public Interest Research Group, for example, noted, “The toxics released [by the mining facilities] can include mercury, arsenic, chrome, lead, cyanide, hydrochloric acid, and sulfuric acid. Health effects linked to these substances range from acute respiratory irritation to long-term health effects such as cancer and reproductive problems.”
Responding to USPIRG’s criticism, National Mining Association CEO Richard L. Lawson noted, “Typically 85 to 90 percent of what metals mines report is the large quantity of naturally occurring inorganic metals that remain in low concentration in ordinary rock that is moved, stored, processed, and managed at the mine site. EPA says, ‘Release estimates alone are not sufficient to determine exposure to or potential adverse effects on human health and the environment.'”
For more information
The TRI data are available on the Internet at www.epa.gov/tri.