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Originally published in Interiors & Sources

01/21/2013

Air Pollutants on the Decline

 
Are air pollutants on the decline? Are facilities embracing green standards?

Facilities must report their toxic chemical releases to EPA under the Federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) by the beginning of July each year.

Total toxic air releases in 2011 declined 8% 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 (EPA) annual Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) report published today.

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.

“The Toxics Release Inventory provides widespread access to valuable environmental information. It plays a critical role in EPA’s efforts to hold polluters accountable and identify and acknowledge those who take steps to prevent pollution,” says EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “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. This remarkable success is due in part to the TRI program and concerted efforts by industry, regulators and public interest groups to clean up the air we all depend upon.”

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 3% and releases to land increased 19 percent since 2010, with the latter again due primarily to the metal mining sector, as explained below.

Many of the releases from TRI facilities are regulated under various EPA programs and requirements designed to limit harm to people’s health and the environment.

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 8 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 - which EPA understands is one of the asserted reasons for the increase in total reported releases - 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.


 

 
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