Total releases and transfers of toxic chemicals in the United States
increased by 8 percent from 2010 to 2011 to 4.09 billion pounds, according to a
analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency released Jan. 16.
The rise in releases is mainly from increases in land disposal at metal
mines, where small changes in the composition of the ore being mined can lead to
big changes in the amount of toxic chemicals reported nationally, EPA said.
Smaller increases in releases occurred in the hazardous waste management
Following a long-term decline in toxic releases, 2011 is the second year in a
row in which EPA's Toxics Release Inventory, which collects data on toxic
chemicals produced and used at industrial facilities nationwide, has recorded an
increase in total on- and off-site disposal or other releases (36 CRR 29,
Other factors that can affect trends in disposal or other releases of toxics
include changes in production, changes in management practices at facilities,
and installation of control techniques, EPA said in its 2011 Toxics Release
Inventory National Analysis.
Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, covered
industries are required to report by July 1 each year on releases of certain
chemicals into air, water, and land. EPA usually updates the data set through
quality checks over several months before releasing its annual analysis, which
marks trends in national and local toxic releases and trends in chemicals
managed by TRI facilities and examines certain chemicals of interest, industry
sectors, parent companies, and geographic areas.
The 2011 data set included information on about 511 chemicals, 16 of which
were reported to TRI for the first time (34 CRR 1145, 11/29/10).
The number of facilities reporting to TRI has decreased by 1 percent since
Of the 26 industries that must report to TRI, nearly half of 2011's total
toxic releases originated from mining of metals like copper, lead, and gold,
according to the analysis. Metal mining, which typically accounts for the
largest share of toxics reported by industries, grew to 46 percent of total
releases in 2011.
The data should prompt EPA to issue financial assurance requirements for the
metal mining industry, as required by a 2009 court order, Alan Septoff, a
spokesman for Earthworks, said in a statement.
“Billions of pounds of pollution requires billions of dollars to clean up,”
Septoff said. “If the EPA doesn't act soon to require cleanup bonds, taxpayers
could be paying the cleanup bill instead of the polluting mining companies.
Meanwhile, our nation's rivers, streams, air and land remain at risk.”
The 2011 analysis shows that the majority of toxics, 2.44 billion pounds,
were released or disposed of on-site to land.
From 2010 to 2011, land releases saw the biggest year-to-year change as a
percentage of total releases, climbing by 4 percentage points. The growth in
land disposal could be attributed to increased metal mining production, waste
rock disposal, and changes in the composition of waste rock in recent years, the
Total air releases declined 8 percent from 2010, continuing a downward trend
that has reduced toxics in the air by 788 million pounds since 2003, the
analysis said. The drop was primarily a result of reductions in hazardous air
pollution emissions by electric utilities, EPA said.
“Likely reasons for the decreases include a shift from coal to other fuel
sources and installation of control technologies at coal-fired power plants,”
the analysis said.
About 220 million pounds of toxics were released or disposed into water, a 4
percent decrease from 2010.
In line with EPA's recent spotlight on pollution prevention under TRI, the
2011 analysis featured an expanded discussion of waste managed by facilities (36
CRR 1257, 11/26/12).
Total production-related waste managed, which includes total toxic chemical
releases as well as amounts recycled, combusted for energy recovery, and treated
on- and off-site, increased to 22.77 billion pounds in 2011, a 4 percent rise
Over the past decade, however, total waste managed has dropped by about 17
percent, a possible indication of successful source reduction.
By Andrea Vittorio
EPA's 2011 Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis is available at