U.S. Toxic Chemical Releases Shrank 5 Percent in 2007

U.S. Toxic Chemical Releases Shrank 5 Percent in 2007

The amount of toxic chemicals released into the country’s air, water or on land shrank 5 percent in 2007, according to the latest data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory Program.

Industrial sites in the U.S. released nearly 4.1 billion pounds of toxic chemicals in 2007, down from 4.25 billion pounds the year before. Toxic chemicals released into the air dropped 7 percent, while water releases decreased by 5 percent during the same period.

But overall releases of persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals, also known as PBTs, grew by 1 percent. PBTs, which are toxic, remain in the environment for a long time, are not easily destroyed and can build up in body tissue, include lead, mercury and PCBs.

The vast majority of PBT releases are lead or lead compounds, which grew 1 percent in 2007. Mercury releases increased 38 percent, mostly due to the mining industry. Emissions of PCBs, which were banned in 1979, increased by 40 percent, most likely from the disposal of older equipment.

The TRI is often lauded as a successful right-to-know program and measures chemical use efficiency and pollution reduction. Between 2001 and 2007, total toxic chemical releases declined 27 percent.

The most recent data reflects releases from the 2007 calendar year but was partially collected under weakened reporting guidelines established in late 2006 during the Bush administration. On March 11, the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act returned the TRI reporting rules back to their previous standards.

"Serving the public’s right to know is the crucial first step in reducing toxic chemicals in the places where we live, work, and raise children," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement. "I’m also pleased that Congress, under the leadership of Senator Lautenberg, took action to restore the rigorous reporting standards of this vital program."

At the sector level, metal mining interests again had the largest share of toxic releases or disposals -- 1.15 billion pounds -- but also displayed the largest decrease from 2006, an 8 percent decline of 106 million pounds.

"Barrels" -- CC licensed by Flickr user mangpages.