EPA Releases Toxic Inventory Data

[EPA press release - April 12, 1989]

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced the results of an inventory of chemicals released to the nation's water, air and land. A summary of The Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data, which were collected under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, indicates that in 1987, 9.7 billion pounds of chemicals were released to streams and other bodies of water; 1.9 billion pounds were sent to municipal wastewater-treatment plants for processing and disposal; 2.7 billion pounds went into the air; 2.4 billion pounds were put into landfills and 3.2 billion pounds were injected into underground wells. An additional 2.6 billion pounds were sent to off-site treatment and disposal facilities.

Much of the reported emissions currently are managed under EPA or state regulations. The inventory also includes accidental or unregulated releases.

Under section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, certain manufacturing facilities are required to submit annual toxic release inventory reports to EPA and their states. Facility owners and operators are required to report their annual emissions of each listed chemical to water, air and land. The first reports were due on July 1, 1988, and the data released today are from the first annual submission of the toxic release reporting forms. More than 75,000 reports were submitted to EPA and 17,500 facilities submitted reports, one for each listed chemical which was manufactured, processed or used.

"This law makes available an unprecedented amount of information to all citizens, local, state and federal governments and industry on the presence of and releases of chemicals in our communities," said EPA Administrator William K. Reilly. "At EPA, we will use the new data to determine where potential pollution problems exist and improve on regulatory programs.

"Our national pollution-control programs of the past 20 years have emphasized containment and treatment of toxic wastes after they are produced," Reilly said. "The widespread use of air-pollution scrubbers, wastewater-treatment plants and the recent introduction of land-disposal prohibitions are, in fact, significant accomplishments that show our nation's commitment to a clean environment. But these pollution-control efforts have not completely kept pace with the releases of toxic chemicals," Reilly continued.

"We need to supplement our efforts with a new strategy--one that couples conventional controls and vigorous enforcement of our current laws, with pollution prevention so we can cut down on the actual amount of toxics being generated as by-products. This is one of my primary goals at EPA. We have already established an office of pollution prevention to oversee this effort."


Of the reported chemical releases into water, the listed substance sodium sulfate constitutes 95 percent of the reported releases. Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, anyone may petition the agency to add or delete a substance from the TRI reporting list. The agency received a petition from Hoechst Celanese Corp. on August 9, 1988, to delete sodium sulfate from the list of toxic chemicals because it does not present potential adverse human-health or environmental effects. After reviewing the petition the agency determined that sodium sulfate does not cause significant adverse human health or environmental effects. In February, EPA proposed to delete sodium sulfate from the toxic emissions reporting list.

Almost five percent of substances that are released into water, consist primarily of 12 chemicals, which are regulated by EPA and the states. The 12 chemicals are phosphoric acid, sodium hydroxide, sulfuric acid, nitric acid and hydrochloric acid, which are regulated for industrial and municipal discharges into water; ammonium sulfate, ammonia, ammonium nitrate, chlorine and arsenic compounds, for which EPA has issued water quality criteria; aluminum oxides, which break down into toxic forms of aluminum for which a water quality-criterion has been issued and methanol, which biodegrades readily and is only toxic at higher levels.

The remaining chemicals that are discharged into water will be examined by EPA for toxicity or potential adverse impact to the receiving waters.

"This country has made remarkable progress in cleaning up its waters. The new data that we now have will help us focus on those water-pollution problems where we need to do more," Reilly said.


The air-emissions data reported provide a rough estimate of the potential magnitude of toxics released. While many of the reporting compounds listed are known to be toxic to humans at certain exposure levels, the data available from the toxic release inventory are not sufficient to determine with any certainty the magnitude of the potential public-health risk that may be associated with the emissions from a particular source. The data are being used in assessing and ranking sources and categories of sources.

"In terms of air toxics, we have made substantial progress. Existing control on sources of volatile organic compounds, to meet air quality standards for ozone and particulates, has reduced air-toxic emissions by 40 percent in the last decade," Reilly said. "But levels are still too high and our task is not complete.

"The data tell us that we need a new Clean Air Act," Reilly said. "The Bush Administration wil introduce this legislation, which will regulate air toxic emissions from industrial sources."


Most of the land releases reported in the inventory are waste disposal. These wastes fall into several categories, with different levels of regulatory control. The largest volumes of toxic chemicals released to the land result from mining activities. The agency is currently developing a regulatory program under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for the large volumes of waste generated by mining activities. Many of the other chemicals reported are RCRA hazardous wastes when they are discarded products or they may be constituents of designated RCRA hazardous waste streams. These releases are subject to permitting and management standards under federal and state hazardous waste laws. The majority of TRI chemicals when discarded are industrial wastes which may be subject to regulations by state and local laws. EPA is evaluating these data to determine if additional control is needed under federal or state programs.


The toxic release data are only the first step in determining the extent to which human health may be affected by toxic chemicals in the environment.

"These reports, representing annual emissions, tell us nothing about the rates at which the chemicals were released, their concentrations in specific locations, or the extent of public exposure to them," Reilly said. "That information, which ultimately requires a facility-by-facility examination, is essential before we can estimate any risks to human health associated with these releases. Release does not equal exposure," he said.

Reilly said it is likely that only a few facilities are exposing the public to toxic chemicals at a rate that could require immediate action. "These facilities need to be identified and dealt with promptly," he said. "For most facilities, we would expect to find low-level or no exposures. Even low-level exposure to some of these chemicals over a long period of time, however, is a matter of concern and we must take steps to deal with these exposures as well."

Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act

Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, manufacturing facilities with 10 or more employees that produced, processed or used certain amounts of any of more than 300 toxic chemicals were required to report their annual releases of those chemicals to EPA and states by July 1, 1988.

The law also requires contingency planning for chemical emergencies. Local facilities must submit to their state and to local emergency-planning committees their inventories of extremely hazardous chemicals and other substances. This information, along with the TRI data, provides a basis for communities to plan for responses to chemical emergencies and to work together to reduce risk.

EPA is enforcing the reporting requirements of the law. To date, the agency has proposed assessments of more than $2.5 million in penalties against companies that have failed to report their emissions.

EPA is entering the reports into a national TRI computerized data base. Within the next two months, EPA will complete this process and make the TRI available for public access in a computerized version, microfiche copies and a detailed national report.

Reilly said the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know program, which also requires facilities to report on-site inventories and emergency releases of hazardous and toxic chemicals and to participate in planning for chemical emergencies, marks a significant change in the nation's approach to environmental protection.

"We are in an era of citizen involvement in environmental decision-making," Reilly said. "As information about toxic chemical emissions is made available to all interested citizens, they will be able to examine the extent of the problem in their own communities. They will be armed with information they can use to ask the right questions and demand appropriate action from government and industry to control toxic chemical releases that present a risk to their health or environment.

"Reductions in these emissions will require a concerted effort by federal, state and local governments, citizens and industry," he said. "The right-to-know program will allow everyone in this country to help fight pollution."

"The Toxic Release Inventory will be conducted annually, and I hope in the coming years to report significant reductions in emissions of toxic chemicals in the environment."