Industries continue to surpass toxics release goal
Industries in the Bay states have continued to surpass their turn-of-the-century goal for reducing the amount of toxics they release, according to new figures from the Bay Program.
A recent analysis of data from the EPA’s 1996 Toxics Release Inventory shows that industries in the Bay watershed have cut their releases of certain toxic chemicals by 67 percent since 1988.
In 1996, according to the figures, the 898 facilities within the watershed required to file TRI reports released 96.5 million pounds of the 182 toxics tracked by the Bay Program. That was a decrease from 292.5 million pounds in 1988, and 100.3 million pounds last year.
“The good news is that industries are continuing to reduce their releases of TRI chemicals as a whole,” said Kelly Eisenman, toxics coordinator with the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office. “But we’re starting to see the percentage decreases leveling off.”
This year’s 67 percent reduction is, in fact, only slightly better than last year’s 66 percent reduction.
“It is leveling off,” agreed Kelly Mecum, who coordinates the Bay Program’s Businesses for the Bay initiative. “Part of that is a function that businesses have already made a lot of the major cuts and reductions in preventing pollution.”
The Bay Program is hoping Businesses for the Bay will help to achieve further reductions. Under the program, participating businesses set toxics reductions goals to be achieved exclusively through pollution prevention — actions that prevent waste materials from being generated or find ways to recycle them.
Many participating businesses also have designated “mentors” who work with other businesses to provide information about practices that reduce waste production through pollution prevention. Mecum said that the transfer of information should lead to more toxics reductions in the future. “It is important for our more progressive businesses to help some of the other folks out,” she said.
The 1996 data shows that most of the chemicals, 58.9 million pounds, were released into the air. Another 15.5 million pounds were released to municipal wastewater treatment plants, 9.5 million pounds were shipped off-site to disposal facilities, 9.2 million pounds were sent elsewhere for treatment, 2.6 million pounds were stored on the land at the facilities, and 760,000 pounds were released into the water.
Meanwhile, the TRI data show that the news is less positive for the Bay Program’s “Toxics of Concern” — those substances that are considered to pose the greatest threat to the Bay. Releases of those chemicals increased from 2.2 million pounds in 1988 to almost 4 million pounds in 1996. The Bay Program goal is to reduce Toxics of Concern releases 75 percent from 1988 levels by the turn of the century.
Eisenman said that has been a problem because the Toxics of Concern are typically released by only a handful of industries — and often different industries — each year, usually as a result of changes in manufacturing processes. That makes it hard to target them for reductions, she said.
“In any given year, one industry may drive the numbers up,” Eisenman said. “It’s a different set of industries this year than it was last year.”
The EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory stems from the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, which requires major manufacturers to report releases and transfers of certain chemicals. Manufacturers must report releases of listed chemicals if they have 10 or more full-time employees and process 25,000 pounds — or use more than 10,000 pounds of any one chemical on the TRI list during the calendar year.
Beginning this year, the EPA is requiring TRI information from seven new industrial sectors that had previously been exempt. Those include metal mining, coal mining, electrical utilities, certain hazardous waste treatment and disposal facilities, chemical and allied produce wholesale distributors, petroleum bulk stations and terminals, and solvent recovery services.
In all, about 6,000 additional facilities nationwide will have to begin providing TRI information under the new requirement. The first reports from those sectors will become public in 2000.
That will likely increase the amount of chemical releases reported in the Bay watershed, particularly for some important toxic chemicals. Mercury, one of the Bay Program’s Toxics of Concern, is a byproduct of combustion at coal-fired power plants. The EPA earlier this year estimated that power plants in the United States release 51 million pounds of mercury annually.
Next spring, the Bay Program plans to conduct a series of roundtables to set new toxics reduction goals based on the TRI list, and that could result in a goal for the newly listed industries, Eisenman said.
In addition, new reduction goals may be set for the full complement of 643 chemicals now included on the TRI list. The Bay Program’s current goals are based only on the chemicals that were included on the 1988 TRI list.
While the Bay Program has used the TRI as a tool to help measure toxic control efforts within the watershed, it was started by the EPA to provide communities and citizens with information about toxic chemicals in their areas. Making such data public has been credited with spurring sharp reductions in toxics releases nationwide, as well as within the watershed. The data, though, do not provide information about the degree of risk posed by any particular chemical release.
Nationwide, about 2.4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released in 1996, a decrease from 2.5 billion pounds in 1995.
Information about the Toxics Release Inventory is available in public libraries or online at: www.epa.gov/opptintr/tri, or by calling the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Information Hotline at 1-800-424-9346.
For information about Businesses for the Bay, contact Kelly Mecum at 1-800-968-7229, ext. 719.
Toxics of Concern
The Bay Program has identified 14 “Toxics of Concern” that are considered to be the most harmful to aquatic life in the Chesapeake.
They include: atrazine, benzo[a]anthracene, benzo[a]pyrene, cadmium, copper, fluoranthene, lead, mercury, naphthalene, PCBs and tributyltin.
The Bay Program has goal of reducing releases of those chemicals — as reported on the Toxics Release Inventory — 75 percent by the turn of the century.
Not all of the Toxics of Concern are on the TRI list. The TRI includes eight Toxics of Concern: lead, mercury, cadmium,chromium, copper, chlordane, naphthalene and PCBs.
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