Toxic Chemical Releases Down Overall, Mercury and PCBs Up

WASHINGTON, DC, March 19, 2009 (ENS) – The U.S. EPA’s most recent data on the amount of toxic chemicals released into the U.S. environment shows an overall decrease of five percent in releases in the year from 2006 to 2007. Releases to air decreased seven percent and releases to water decreased five percent.

While the report shows an overall improvement in toxic releases, it also shows a one percent increase in releases of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals like lead, dioxin, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs.

The increases were primarily due to a handful of facilities, the EPA said.

PCB releases went up 40 percent between 2006 and 2007, the Inventory shows. The EPA banned the production of PCBs in the United States in 1979 and disposing of it safely to permitted, hazardous waste landfills is the final step in removing it from use.

Total disposal or other releases of mercury increased 38 percent, but air emissions of mercury were down three percent. The majority of mercury releases were reported by the mining industry.

Acidophilic microbes thrive in this biofilm growing inside an abandoned mine at Iron Mountain, California. The microbes create toxic acid mine drainage, an environmental problem associated with coal and uranium mining. (Photo by Terry Johnson /UC Berkeley courtesy LLNL)

Dioxin releases or disposal increased 11 percent.

Lead releases increased by one percent, most released by the mining industry to land.

“This information underscores the need for fundamental transparency and provides a powerful tool for protecting public health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “Serving the public’s right to know is the crucial first step in reducing toxic chemicals in the places where we live, work, and raise children.”

This year’s annual publication of the Toxics Release Inventory includes 650 chemicals from 22,000 facilities. It reports toxics managed in landfills and underground injection wells as well as those released into water and the air.

The annual Inventory provides the American public with information on chemical releases to communities and is intended as a tool that industry can use to gauge its progress in reducing pollution.

“I’m also pleased,” Jackson said, “that Congress under the leadership of Senator [Frank] Lautenberg took action to restore the rigorous reporting standards of this vital program.”

On March 11, President Barack Obama signed into law the FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, which includes a provision authored by Senator Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, to reinstate stronger requirements on the reporting of toxic chemical releases.

The Lautenberg measure overturned a December 2006 Bush administration rule limiting the reporting of these toxic emissions.

“The public has a right to know about chemicals in their air and water. The Bush administration watered down this law and let facilities hide critical data about their toxic chemical emissions. It is time to restore the public’s right to know about the release of toxic chemicals in their communities,” said Senator Lautenberg, who authored the legislation that created the 1986 Right-to-Know program.

The Toxics Release Inventory tracks the chemicals and industrial sectors specified by the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986 and its amendments.

The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 also requires that Toxics Release Inventory reports include data on toxic chemicals treated on-site, recycled, and burned for energy recovery.

View This Story On Eco–mmunity Map.