The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today made public for the first time toxic emissions figures for seven major industrial sectors.
As a result of the inclusion of these new sectors, together with the manufacturing industry, the total toxic emissions reported in the United States is 7.3 billion pounds -- almost triple the number reported previously.
The newly included sectors in the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) are electric utilities, coal mining, metal mining, chemical wholesalers, petroleum bulk plants and terminals, solvent recovery and hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal.
Hard rock mining and producing electric power are the industries responsible for the most toxic chemicals being put into the environment, according to EPA.
The mining industry and power plants accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 7.3 billion pounds of toxic chemicals put into the environment during 1998.
Two-thirds of the mining industry''s chemical releases occurred in Arizona and Nevada, although the company with the single largest amount of releases -- 405 million pounds at the Kennecott copper mine -- was in Utah, according to the report.
This was the first time in the 11-year history of the report that mining and power plants releases had to be reported. The expansion of reporting requirements was a result of a directive signed by President Clinton in 1997.
"Putting basic information about toxic releases into the hands of citizens is one of the most powerful tools available for protecting public health and the environment in local communities," said Vice President Al Gore.
EPA''s TRI program requires companies to report publicly quantities of toxic chemicals that their facilities annually release into the air, water and land.
TRI data presents only a partial picture of risks from toxic releases. The EPA report cautioned that the information should be used as a guide and not necessarily an indicator of health risk because the report does not take into account exposure or specific toxicity of the high-volume chemicals.
However, EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner said the report is a valuable "right to know" tool for the public to gauge potential healthy concerns.
Among the new industries reporting, EPA said hard rock mining companies released 3.5 billion pounds of chemicals into the air, land and water, although all but about 1.3 million pounds was kept on the mine sites.
Electric utilities dumped more than 1.1 billion pounds, about 70 percent of it into the air through the power plant smokestacks, mostly coal-burning plants, the agency said.
This year''s report cannot be easily compared with previous reports because of the addition of the seven new industry sectors.
But EPA said among the original industry sectors, toxic releases have declined by 45 percent over 11 years. Overall releases were also down slightly from the 1997 report.
The 1998 TRI data and background information on the TRI program are available at www.epa.gov/tri.
by Virginia Sutcliffe