2000 TOXICS RELEASE INVENTORY DATA TO HIGHLIGHT PERSISTENT TOXICS, DOCUMENT THE NEED FOR STRONGER ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS INSTEAD OF BUSH ADMINISTRATION ROLLBACKS
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Source: US PIRG.
2000 TOXICS RELEASE INVENTORY DATA TO HIGHLIGHT PERSISTENT TOXICS,
DOCUMENT THE NEED FOR STRONGER ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS INSTEAD OF BUSH ADMINISTRATION ROLLBACKS
To: Interested Parties
Fr: Jeremiah Baumann, environmental health advocate, the State PIRGs
Contact: 202-546-9707, firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: 2000 Toxics Release Inventory Data
Dt: May 21, 2002
The U.S. EPA is expected to release the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data for 2000 as early as this week. The data will include some new elements never before reported and will shed a light on pollution problems that would be exacerbated by Bush administration environmental policies. The 1999 TRI data showed nearly 8 billion pounds of toxic pollution released into air, land, and water, and nearly 30 billion pounds of toxic chemicals in managed waste; the 2000 TRI data are expected to document even more pollution as some facilities are reporting for the first time on certain chemicals.
The TRI is the nation's flagship community right-to-know program for toxic chemical hazards. It documents the amounts of 667 toxic chemicals released either directly to the environment or indirectly in the form of toxic waste by tens of thousands of industrial facilities. The TRI data document only a fraction of toxic hazards to Americans (as discussed below, they do not include chemicals placed in products and the 667 TRI chemicals are less than 1% of the chemicals registered for use) . Nevertheless, the TRI is Americans' most comprehensive source of information on toxic pollution.
New data on persistent toxic chemicals to show flaws in toxics regulation
The 2000 data release will include new data on several thousand facilities' releases of persistent toxic chemicals.* Once released to the environment, these chemicals cannot be broken down by natural processes, and they accumulate in the human body, increasing the likelihood of adverse health effects. Their release to the environment almost guarantees exposure - chemicals like mercury and dioxin have been found in the food supply and bodies of people living hundreds of miles from any pollution source. The quantity released to the environment is evidence of flaws in how industrial chemicals are regulated: EPA's authority to keep dangerous chemicals off the market is so weak that significant quantities of the most hazardous chemicals known continue to be released to our environment every year.
One avenue for protecting the public from persistent toxics is the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs). This international treaty bans or calls for the phase-out of 12 persistent toxics and establishes an international science-based process for addressing additional chemicals. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has proposed implementing the treaty without the provisions for addressing additional chemicals. That means that a portion of the persistent toxic pollution documented in the TRI data would not be addressed by the Bush administration's proposed implementation of the treaty.
Dioxin data to show danger of continued stalling on dioxin reassessment and regulation
The 2000 data include the first facility-specific data on pollution and wastes containing dioxin. Dioxin is a group of chemical compounds created in industrial processes that burn or use chlorine or chlorinated materials, and is a highly potent cancer agent also linked to damage to the reproductive, immune, and nervous systems. The chemical is toxic in such small quantities, and current contamination so pervasive, that an EPA draft report on dioxin exposure and health impacts found that the cancer risk to the general public may already be as high as 1 in 1000. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has not finalized its report -- which is to be followed by an agency strategy for reducing dioxin pollution - in nearly a year since its Science Advisory Board recommended that the report be finalized 'expeditiously.' The TRI dioxin data will show that every day the Bush administration waits to take action on dioxin is another day that highly hazardous pollution mounts. EPA should immediately release the dioxin reassessment so that regulations to protect Americans from dioxin exposure can be developed.
Mercury data to show need for better health protections from power plants, mines
The 2000 TRI data are expected to show striking amounts of mercury pollution, including from many coal-fired utilities, for the first time. Coal-fired power plants and mining facilities are exptectd to report the largest quantities of harmful mercury pollution. Mercury pollution from many power plants, and likely from many mines, is included in the TRI for the first time this year because of changes in the reporting rules (described above). It is expected that power plants will be documented as the biggest source of mercury releases to air, with mines releasing more total mercury, most of which is dumped on land. Mercury is a severe neurological toxicant whose releases dangerously contaminate tens of thousands of U.S. water bodies and many commonly-eaten fish species. A 2001 report by U.S. PIRG and the Environmental Working Group showed that eating fish regularly exposes as many as 1 in 4 pregnant women to high enough levels of mercury to threaten the developing fetus.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration's "Clear Skies" initiative would allow three times the mercury pollution from power plants as implementation of the current Clean Air Act.
TRI data provide best reasons not to weaken the Superfund program
The billions of pounds of toxic pollution released to our environment and tens of billions of pounds of toxic waste created in 2000 mean that more contamination is being created even as the EPA slows the pace of Superfund toxic waste site clean-ups. The Bush administration does not support re-authorizing the "polluter pays" taxes. These funds would not only enable toxic waste clean-ups to continue on pace, but, by taxing the use of toxic chemicals, create an incentive against continued use (and release) of toxic chemicals. By using taxpayer funds instead of polluters' money for toxic waste clean-ups, the administration removes this incentive against pollution and asks American taxpayers to pay the price.
Data on mining industry show danger of weakening clean water rules
The Bush administration has recently proposed re-defining what constitutes "fill" in a waterway to allow industries, including the mining industry, to legally dump more waste into waterways. The TRI data are expected to show that the mining industry is already the biggest toxic polluter in the country. Legalizing more waste dumping by the mining industry would amount to letting the worst polluters pollute more.
The Toxics Release Inventory: only the tip of the iceberg
The Toxics Release Inventory data document only a fraction of actual toxic hazards. For the TRI chemicals, the TRI data do not include releases from a number of significant pollution sources like oil wells, airports, and medical waste incinerators (a significant source of dioxin). They also do not include some significant sources of human exposure to TRI chemicals, such as chemicals placed in products.
In addition, the TRI represents only a fraction of the chemicals on the market. Fatal flaws in toxics laws mean that there are approximately 80,000 chemicals on the market, but, according to EPA and American Chemistry Council studies, at least some of the basic data needed to perform a basic screen for health and environmental effects were not publicly available for more than 90% of the chemicals. Unlike pesticides laws, which require manufacturers to produce health effects studies and apply to EPA for permission to manufacture a pesticide, laws governing industrial chemicals require no pre-market testing and provide EPA little authority to keep harmful chemicals off the market.
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