ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS: Beyond The Fence Line-Why The Toxics Release Inventory Is So Important
We've made quite a mess of our planet since the industrial age. In the U.S. alone, there currently are 1,236 sites on what EPA calls the National Priorities List. But it was the deadly cloud of methyl isocyanate, which killed thousands of people in Bhopal, India, that made us realize that much more needed to be done.
After the Bhopal incident, public interest and environmental organizations around the country accelerated demands for information on toxic chemicals being released "beyond the fence line," or outside of the facility. Against this background, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was enacted.
The Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act and the Pollution Prevention Act mandate that a publicly accessible toxic chemical database be developed and maintained by U.S. EPA. This database, known as the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), contains information on waste management activities and the release of toxic chemicals by facilities that manufacture, process or "otherwise use" specific materials.
Section 313 of EPCRA specifically requires manufacturers to report releases of more than 600 designated toxic chemicals to the environment. By requiring industries to track and report toxic chemicals being released from their facility, the EPA hopes citizens, businesses and governments can work together to protect the quality of their land, air and water.
The reports are sent to the EPA, where the data is compiled and placed in an on-line, publicly accessible, national computerized TRI. Reports are due each July 1st and cover data generated from the previous calendar year.
Who Must Report?
...If your facility falls under Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Codes 20 through 39 and has ten or more fulltime employees you should review your processes. If you manufacture, import, process or otherwise use (i.e. a catch-all phrase to cover just about any other term one can think of) a chemical that is on the EPA's list of toxic chemicals, you may have to report.
The next step is to see if any of the previous actions generate quantities of the listed chemicals at or above the threshold reporting limits. And remember, just because a final product or byproduct may have no toxic characteristics in the end (like sludge or finished metal products), it's the components that helped to make the product that must be considered.
If you meet these criteria, you must report on how the toxic chemicals may have been released into the air, water and land. This will take some effort, especially if there are no procedures to track chemicals through the manufacturing process. Begin with purchasing records and material safety data sheets (MSDS). Track the raw materials through the manufacturing process and determine where a waste stream or product is created.
Be sure not to forget about furnaces or coating operations that may exhaust the chemicals to the atmosphere - whether it exhausts to a stack or inside the plant. Other releases that are easy to overlook are wastewater discharge and solid waste. What gets sent to the local public owned treatment works (POTW) or is hauled off by a waste vendor must also be considered.
Not In My Backyard
EPCRA was written with individual citizens in mind, on the principle that the more citizens know, the more effective they can be in improving health and safety by avoiding chemical hazards in their communities. Citizens can also be very effective by filing civil suits against companies that might release pollutants onto their property.
EPA and various citizen action groups have created several websites to support this inventory. The more popular sites include Score Card (www.scorecard. org) and Envirofacts (www.epa.gov/ enviro/index_java.html). The EPA's website can be found at (www.epa. gov/tri/).
All of this may sound unfair to a business that is working within the boundaries of environmental regulations and supports the community by providing jobs and tax revenues. After all, most businesses are permitted to discharge pollutants and pay large sums of money to legally do so. So why should the law abiding businesses have to freely provide this data and encourage the public to file suit?
The EPA summarizes it best: "Whether the TRI is used to influence local government action, emergency planning, the education of citizens, or to spur industry-citizen cooperation, it is clear that it plays a vital role in enhancing nationwide efforts to improve our nation's precious environment."
If efforts are made to reduce the release of pollutants to the environment, then reporting won't be necessary-and then we can stop adding to the mess that we've created.