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Uses of TRI Data

Source: EPA 1994 Toxics Release Inventory
Public Data Release, Appendix D


Introduction

The TRI data were first released to the public in 1989. Since then, TRI data use has expanded rapidly, both in terms of the number of data users and the variety and complexity of their projects. This appendix summarizes the major categories of TRI data use and provides a few examples of representative uses in each category.

Public Awareness

Each year, the EPA develops this national summary report and a state fact sheet compendium to distribute to the public at the time the complete national TRI database is first released. These reports help raise public awareness of the TRI data and provide ready access to aggregate information that helps track progress in reducing emissions. Twenty-three states prepare similar summary reports for their TRI data.

Many public interest groups disseminate TRI data by analyzing and compiling it in summary reports. A bibliography prepared by the Working Group on Community Right-to-Know in summer 1994 lists well over 100 state and local reports and more than 30 national TRI reports compiled by public interest groups. These reports may focus attention on top dischargers, identify chemicals or geographic areas of concern, and highlight perceived needs for further action.

Because the public now has access to information about what potentially harmful substances are being released into their communities, they can use this information to begin to understand potential risks and to work with facilities to reduce those risks. Voluntary Emissions Reductions

The public availability of the TRI data has led many corporations to commit publicly to voluntary emissions reductions. One wellknown pledge was Monsanto's 1989 commitment to reduce its worldwide air emissions of toxic chemicals by 90% by 1992. In addition to providing the impetus for these reduction pledges, the TRI data also provide the public with the measurement tool needed to track companies' progress, as well as providing the companies a means of demonstrating their commitment and success.

A number of national, state, and local voluntary emissions reduction programs have sprung up since the beginning of TRI reporting. Many of these programs use TRI data to set toxic emissions reduction goals and to track progress in meeting those goals. Most of these programs provide positive recognition to companies or facilities that meet their reduction pledges.

Pollution Prevention Targeting

Many government agencies are using TRI data to identify pollution prevention opportunities and better target their technical and financial assistance resources.

Legislation and Regulation

The large quantities of toxic emissions reported under TRI have highlighted the need for changes in environmental regulations and legislation. Environmental groups have used TRI data to lobby for new or stronger national and state environmental protection laws or better enforcement of existing regulations. Government agencies have used TRI data to set priorities for regulatory development and implementation.

Education

The TRI data are being used in many environmental education programs, particularly at the high school and university levels. Students learn about toxic chemical releases, the potential health and environmental effects of those releases, pollution prevention activities and opportunities, and the social and political aspects of environmental protection. Some organizations are also conducting educational outreach programs using TRI data.

Risk Screening

TRI data are used extensively to identify and prioritize potential risks from toxic chemical releases. Risk screening processes using TRI data can help governments and others target facilities, industries, chemicals, or geographic areas for further investigation or follow-up actions, including voluntary reduction efforts, technical assistance, incentives and disincentives, regulation development, or enforcement.

Simple risk screening techniques may sum TRI release data or release and transfer data by facility, geographic area, industry sector, or chemical. These approaches rely on certain assumptions, such as equal hazard potential from all chemicals and equal exposure potential for each environmental medium.

Other approaches weight the TRI data by the toxicity of the released chemical. Weights may be qualitative or quantitative toxicity rankings, or they may be based on toxicity values, such as a cancer potency or an acceptable dose level. More complex systems incorporate exposure evaluations, including information about chemical fate, environmental dispersion, and the size and characterization of receptors.

Environmental Justice Analysis

Public interest groups, academics, and government researchers are using TRI data to investigate environmental justice issues. TRI data can be used to help determine whether members of racial or ethnic minorities or people with lower-income levels may experience higher levels of exposure to or risk from toxic chemicals released by industrial facilities.

Geographic Information Systems

Many organizations are incorporating TRI data into computerized Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to analyze and display TRI data and to examine potential impacts in particular geographic areas. GIS is particularly useful for combining data from multiple sources, because it allows overlays of data for the same geographic areas for display and analysis. GIS can show locations of emissions sources (such as TRI sites) relative to receptors (such as residential populations or water sources), environmental characteristics surrounding the sites, and political boundaries. GIS users can perform calculations, such as determining the number of people within a certain distance of a facility, and can build sophisticated models to evaluate potential risks.

Enforcement and Compliance

Because the TRI data include detailed facility identification information, as well as releases to all media and transfers to off-site locations, TRI is particularly well-suited to multimedia enforcement and compliance planning, priority-setting, and targeting. TRI data can be integrated with other release and waste generation data, monitoring data, and compliance history information to provide a more complete picture of facility or industry compliance with environmental regulations.

EPA and many states are also using TRI data to attempt to identify violations of various environmental statutes, such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. "Green Indexing"

Investment analysts, researchers and others are using TRI data, along with other environmental and social data, to rate companies' comparative environmental performance. Demand for environmental performance information by investors, insurance companies, and the public has led many companies to develop environmental annual reports similar to annual reports on financial performance traditionally prepared for investors.

The concept of "green indexing" can also be applied to industry sectors or to geographic areas. For example, TRI and other environmental data can be used to rank industries based on their comparative potential for environmental harm or to rank states based on indicators of their environmental quality. Taxes and Fees

A number of states base fees on the number of TRI reports filed or the quantity of TRI chemicals released and/or transferred from facilities. Some states use TRI data to tax facilities or to modify their taxes. Taxes and fees can serve as important incentives to prevent waste generation and pollution.

Source: USEPA 1994 Toxics Release Inventory Public Data Release (EPA 745-R-96-002, June 1996).

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