The EPA gave the Bay Program's toxic reduction efforts a boost recently by nearly doubling the number of chemicals on the agency's Toxics Release Inventory.

The inventory, or TRI for short, is a list of substances for which large businesses must annually report the amount released into the environment or transferred off site for disposal. On Nov. 28, the EPA adopted a new rule adding 286 substances to the list as of Jan. 1, 1995. That expands the number of TRI chemicals to 654.

The TRI serves as a cornerstone of the "Basinwide Toxics Reduction and Prevention Strategy" recently approved last October by the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, the top policy-making panel for the Bay cleanup effort.

Voluntary toxics reductions in the amount of TRI chemicals released by industries in the Chesapeake watershed account for the strategy's largest reductions in toxic discharges; having more chemicals on the TRI list should mean more reductions.

For companies required to supply TRI data to the EPA, the new strategy seeks voluntary 50 percent reductions, through pollution prevention, in the amount of the listed chemicals released by the turn of the century. The strategy calls for federal facilities to reduce their releases and transfers through pollution prevention by 75 percent.

The Bay Program's Toxics Subcommittee has established a new Pollution Prevention Workgroup to work with industry officials to decide what baseline to use in measuring reductions for the old and new TRI chemicals. A key issue will be deciding whet her reductions already made among the 334 previously listed chemicals should be counted toward the goal.

The workgroup will make its recommendations by the next Executive Council meeting. The council consists of the EPA administrator; the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia; the mayor of the District of Columbia; and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.

Also, the Toxics Subcommittee must decide how to measure reductions for the Bay Program's 14 "Toxics of Concern" - those substances which pose the greatest threat to Bay organisms.

The strategy calls for a 75 percent reduction in the amount of Toxics of Concern that are released from both industrial and federal facilities, but the old TRI list only contained seven of the Toxics of Concern while the new list added five more.

Two Toxics of Concern - fluoranthene and chrysene - remain unlisted, so there is no way to measure reductions at this time.

Rich Batiuk, toxics coordinator for the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program, said the Bay Program may petition EPA to have those two chemicals added to the reporting list.

The TRI was established under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986. The law requires certain manufacturers that have more than 10 employees and use more than 10,000 pounds of chemicals to report their discharges and "off site transfers" of the listed substances.

The EPA then makes the release information available to the public so they can assess risks in local communities.

The EPA believes that expanding the list will provide citizens with a more complete picture of chemicals that affect their communities. In addition, the expansion will focus industry's attention on further pollution prevention or source reduction opportunities. Also, the expansion will provide a broad, multimedia picture of these additional chemicals, not currently evident or possible from single media permitting or data collection activities.

About half the chemicals being added to the list are pesticides. Among the others are certain chemicals listed in the Clean Air Act, certain Clean Water Act Priority Pollutants, and certain Safe Drinking Water Act chemicals.

"This vital information about pollution in our communities allows citizens to be informed and involved in environmental decision-making as never before," said EPA Administrator Carol Browner. "Community right-to-know laws are a common sense way t o protect public health, and I encourage citizens to use the data to work with local facilities to address pollution issues in their communities."

Environmentalists have for some time argued that more chemicals should be covered by the reporting requirements, which apply to more than 23,600 manufacturing and industrial plants nationwide. They also have criticized the law for not requiring release data from incinerators, electric power plants and other facilities.

Last April, the EPA said that chemical plants and other factories reported 3.2 billion pounds of toxic chemical releases in 1992, a 6.6 percent decline from 1991. The 1992 figures are the latest available.

Among the releases were 197 million pounds of known or suspected cancer-causing chemicals and 166 million pounds of chemicals that damage the earth's protective ozone layer.

Of the 3.2 billion pounds of chemicals released, nearly 58 percent went into the air, 10.8 percent was deposited on land, 8.6 percent was discharged into water and 22.8 percent was injected deep into the ground.

In a related action, the EPA announced another rule that will make it easier for small businesses to comply with the law through use of a shorter, less time-consuming reporting form.

The alternative reporting rule is a response to petitions from the Small Business Administration and the American Feed Industry Association that requested relief from the TRI reporting burden. The new rule stipulates that only facilities that rep ort more than 500 pounds of a TRI chemical, or manufacture, process or use more than 1 million pounds of a TRI chemical, need to complete the existing longer form. The change is effective for reporting activities beginning Jan. 1, 1995, with reports due o n or before July 1, 1996.

The TRI data are available to the public in several formats including on-line access to computer databases, CD-ROM and computer diskettes. For general information on access to any data formats, call (202) 260-1531. The EPA also maintains a techni cal hotline to help the public understand TRI reporting, at 1-800-353-0202.