Toxic Chemical Releases Dip in '06

Toxic Chemical Releases Dip in '06

The amount of industry-related toxic chemicals released into the air, waterways, landfills or injected underground fell 2 percent in 2006 compared to the year before, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Nearly 4.25 billion pounds of toxic chemicals, including lead and mercury, were disposed or released in 2006, 105 million pounds less than in 2005, according to latest Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).

The long-term trend is more encouraging: Between 2001 and 2006, total chemical disposals and releases dropped by 24 percent.

Yet between that period, the total disposal of toxic chemicals from smaller facilities -- the 85 percent of TRI facilities that report less than 100,000 pounds -- increased; the total chemical disposal of larger facilities decreased.

Between 1998 and 2006, the amount of toxic chemicals disposed or released dropped 59 percent.

A closer look at the figures reveals that between 2005 and 2006, associated air emissions dropped 7 percent and surface water discharges declined 3 percent. The amount of toxic chemicals going to underground wells or landfills also decreased 3 percent, while other types of land disposal fell 1 percent.

During the same time period, land treatment disposal or releases grew 13 percent, however, while surface impoundments, such as waste piles, spills or leaks, increased 5 percent.

Some sectors, such as mining and electric utilities, release more toxic chemicals because of the sheer volume of materials they handle. For example, the metal mining sector reported 1.22 billion pounds in toxic chemical disposal or releases -- the largest for any sector. Between 2005 and 2006, its disposal or release figure increased 4 percent, or 47 million pounds.

The sectors with the largest year-over-year decreases in toxic chemical disposal or releases were: electric utilities with a 6 percent decline; chemical manufacturers with a 22 percent decline; and the paper sector with a 5 percent decline.