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Oct. 19 — Thirty years after coming into existence, the Toxics Release Inventory database received high praise from activists and academics at an Oct. 19 TRI national training conference.
The conference was held almost 30 years to the day after President Ronald Reagan signed the law that requires companies to report their releases of toxic chemicals to the Environmental Protection Agency, which then compiles these reports into a publicly available database.
Beverly Wright, a sociology professor at Dillard University who specializes in urban environmental justice issues, said the creation of the TRI database was “a lifesaver” for many African American neighborhoods located near industrial sites.
“We’d been saying there’s something in the air that’s making us sick,” Wright said at the conference. “And it was thought to be just the disgruntled raging of an unhappy community.”
With the program entering its fourth decade, many of the attendees of the conference agreed that it should begin to build on its formative successes.
Environmental consultant Mark Greenwood, an EPA alumni who used to work on the TRI program, said the EPA should expand on its efforts to move the database beyond releases of pollution to also include data on companies’ pollution prevention efforts. He also said the EPA needs to improve its risk communication efforts by placing the TRI’s data in context rather than just reporting it to the public without explanation.
Ultimately, one of the most important things the EPA can do with TRI is to simply ensure it continues to exist, according to Paul Mohai, an environmental policy professor at the University of Michigan. Mohai pointed out that, because the EPA reports its localized TRI data annually, people currently under 30 years of age will be able to gain a nearly complete picture of the environmental toxins they have been exposed to throughout every period of their lives.
“Imagine the possibilities for doing longitudinal studies,” Mohai said. “There’s no other data like it.”
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