Toxics Release Inventory
Summary of requirements
The database is available from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and contains information reported annually by some industry groups as well as federal facilities. Each year, companies across a wide range of industries (including chemical, mining, paper, oil and gas industries) that produce more than 25,000 pounds or handle more than 10,000 pounds of a listed toxic chemical must report it to the TRI. The TRI threshold was initially set at 75,000 pounds annually. If the company treats, recycles, disposes, or releases more than 500 pounds of that chemical into the environment (as opposed to just handling it), then they must provide a detailed inventory of that chemical's inventory.
Origins of TRI
The inventory was first proposed in a 1985 New York Times op-ed piece written by David Sarokin and Warren Muir, researchers for an environmental group, INFORM. Congress established TRI under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA), and later expanded it in the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990. The law grew out of concern surrounding Union Carbide's releases of toxic gases in the 1984 Bhopal disaster and a smaller 1985 release in Institute, West Virginia.
Revisions to reporting requirements
Proposed changes in late 2005 would have weakened the reporting standards for the TRI program. Several state attorneys general wrote to EPA asking that the standard not be altered. The proposed revisions came under fire from Eliot Spitzer, then the Attorney General for New York, who said "Public disclosure has proven to be a strong incentive for polluters to reduce their use of toxic chemicals, this move by EPA appears to be yet another poorly considered notion to appease a few polluting constituents at the expense of a valuable program." EPA originally proposed to reduce the required reporting frequency from every year to every other year. This drew intense criticism, and the idea was dropped.
However, EPA went forward with another part of the plan that initially did not receive much attention. Companies were previously required to disclose any release over 2000 pounds (907 kg) on a more detailed "Form R" rather than the less detailed "Form A." With the new regulations, the minimum reporting requirements for Form R have been increased to 5000 pounds (2268 kg), thus reducing the amount of information available. Although this move was widely criticized by the public as well as many officials, EPA went ahead with the new rule anyway. EPA claimed that the comments submitted opposed to the Form R requirements were invalid because nearly all the people who had commented did so on both the change in reporting frequency as well as the minimum amounts required for Form R.
Accessing TRI data
The data in the Toxic Release Inventory is available to the public, but initially the system was difficult to access. In recent years, EPA and several other organizations have made the task much easier.
There are several tools for mapping the TRI data to particular locations. These tools also allow the user to view some of the information in the database.
- TOXMAP is a Geographic Information System (GIS) from the Division of Specialized Information Services of the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) that uses maps of the United States to help users visually explore data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory and Superfund Basic Research Programs. TOXMAP is a resource funded by the US Federal Government. TOXMAP's chemical and environmental health information is taken from NLM's Toxicology Data Network (TOXNET) and PubMed, and from other authoritative sources.
- MapEcos.org was a browser-based tool. It allowed users to access an interactive map of the US showing the most recent TRI data. The map could be searched for locations of interest. At lower zoom levels, it allowed the user to get information on pollution from particular facilities. This site was created by faculty and students at Dartmouth College, Harvard Business School, and Duke University, but was shut down in 2011.
- The Commission for Environmental Cooperation has created a downloadable File for Google Earth which shows all of the most recent reports to the TRI database. It also includes locations from the equivalent Canadian and Mexican pollution inventory. The system currently only maps the locations and links to data at the national registries.
- DotGovWatch offers a simple browser-based map of TRI data. The map can be searched by city, address, and each facility's detailed emissions are available.
Research Oriented Portals
- RTKnet.org Run by Center for Effective Government (formally OMB Watch), this site provides access to current to a variety of EPA data, including data for the TRI. Queries allow users to download files with the raw data.
- The EPA also provides access to the raw data through their Envirofacts site. As with RTK net, queries to the underlying relational database produce downloadable text documents.
- Too Little Toxic Waste Data, New York Times, Oct 7, 1985, pg A31
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, DC. Toxics Release Inventory Program." Accessed 2009-12-20.
- Geiselman, Bruce (2006-01-30). "States ask EPA to reconsider TRI changes". Waste & Recycling News. ISSN 1091-6199.
- Center for Effective Government (2007). "EPA Finalizes Rules for Toxics Release Inventory." January 9, 2007. Vol. 8, No. 1.
- Walker, Peter (2007). "Mapping out the environment." CNN.com. 2007-12-14.
- GIS News:Google Earth layer helps mapping industrial pollutants
- EPA's TRI.NET page (for accessing the data)
- EPA's TRI Explorer page (for accessing the data)
- The Right-to-Know Network for accessing the TRI
- Environmental Working Group's report on the TRI rollback
- Center for Effective Government's page on the TRI
- National Environmental Trust's Page on the TRI
- TOXMAP: National Institute of Health's Environmental Health Maps