The Toxics Release Inventory
(TRI) is a publicly available database from the EPA
that contains information on toxic chemical
releases and other waste management activities reported annually by certain covered industry groups as well as federal facilities. This inventory was first proposed in a 1985 New York Times
op-ed piece written by David Sarokin and Warren Muir, researchers for an environmental group, INFORM. TRI was established under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act
of 1986 (EPCRA
), and later expanded by the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990. The law grew out of concern surrounding Union Carbide's
releases of toxic gases in the 1984 Bhopal disaster
and a smaller 1985
release in Institute, West Virginia
Each year, companies across a wide range of industries (including chemical, mining, paper, oil and gas industries) that produce more than 25,000 pounds or handle more than 10,000 pounds of a listed toxic chemical must report it to the TRI. The TRI threshold was initially set at 75,000 pounds annually. If the company treats, recycles, disposes, or releases more than 500 pounds of that chemical into the environment (as opposed to just handling it), then they must provide a detailed inventory of that chemical's inventory.
Proposed changes in late 2005 would lower the reporting standards for TRI. Several state attorney generals wrote the EPA asking that the standard not be altered. This move came under fire from Eliot Spitzer who said ""Public disclosure has proven to be a strong incentive for polluters to reduce their use of toxic chemicals, this move by EPA appears to be yet another poorly considered notion to appease a few polluting constituents at the expense of a valuable program." EPA originally proposed to reduce the required reporting frequency from every year to every other year. This drew intense criticism, and the idea was dropped.
However, the EPA went forward with another part of the plan that initially did not receive much attention. Companies were previously required to disclose any release over 2000 pounds (907 kg) on a more detailed "Form R" rather than the less detailed "Form A". With the new regulations, the minimum reporting requirements for Form R have been increased to 5000 pounds (2268 kg), thus reducing the amount of information available. Although this move was widely criticized by the public as well as many officials, EPA went ahead with the new rule anyway. EPA claimed that the comments submitted opposed to the Form R requirements were invalid because nearly all the people who had commented did so on both the change in reporting frequency as well as the minimum amounts required for Form R.
Accessing TRI data
The data in the Toxic Release Inventory is available to the public, but accessing has until recently been a difficult task. In recent years, the EPA and several other organizations has made the task much easier.
In 2007, three organizations released tools for mapping the TRI data to particular locations. These tools also allow the user to view some of the information in the database.
- MapEcos.org is a browser-based tool. It allows users to access an interactive map of the US showing the most recent TRI data. The map can be searched for locations of interest. At lower zoom levels, it allows the user to get information on pollution from particular facilities. This site was created by faculty and students at Dartmouth College, Harvard Business School, and Duke University.
- The Commission for Environmental Cooperation has created a downloadable File for Google Earth which shows all of the most recent reports to the TRI database. It also includes locations from the equivalent Canadian and Mexican pollution inventory. The system currently only maps the locations and links to data at the national registries.
- DotGovWatch offers a simple browser-based map of TRI data. The map can be searched by city, address, and each facility's detailed emissions are available.
- The EPA is in the process of creating a system for tailored creation of kml files. The system allows users to create queries of some of the TRI locations, download these in a kml file, and then view them in Google earth.
- Scorecard.org For those seeking detailed information, the easiest access to the data is at scorecard.org. This site also provides information about a variety of other pollution issues, but it has not been updated since 2002. This site was created by a team at Environmental Defense. It is now run by the Green Media Tool Shed.
Research Oriented Portals
- RTKnet.org Run by an OMB watch, this site provides access to current to a variety of EPA data, including data for the TRI. Queries allow users to download files with the raw data.
- The EPA also provides access to the raw data through their Envirofacts site. As with RTK net, queries to the underlying relational database produce downloadable text documents.