According to a newly released U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) annual Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) report, total toxic air releases in declined in 2011—the most recent year for which reporting data is available. Primary metals, chemicals, and metal mining were among the major sectors represented.

Among the highlights from the TRI report:

  • Most industry sectors reported a decline in total production-related waste from 2003–2011, resulting in an overall decrease of 9%.
  • The chemical manufacturing sector1 accounts for 40% of production-related waste managed—down from 43% in 2003.
  • In the automotive sector2 production-related waste decreased by almost 50% from 2003 to 2011, while production declined by 16%.

EPA posits that reductions in production-related waste managed can be a result of various factors, including the implementation of practices that minimize chemical waste as the source, i.e, “source reduction.” Among the industry sectors reporting to TRI, facilities in the chemical manufacturing sector reported more newly implemented source reduction activities (2,422) in 2011 than facilities in any other sector. The most commonly reported source reduction activity for the sector entailed good operating practices, including better maintenance procedures or production schedules. Process modifications and spill and leak prevention were also commonly reported.

In the automotive sector, some reductions were attributed to the implementation of a reliability centered maintenance program, which identified the need for redundant pollution controls associated with the nitride coating process for ammonia.

One exception was the metals mining sector. According to the TRI report, metal mining production-related waste managed remained relatively steady from 2003 to 2009, and then increased by 46% from 2009 to 2011. 

“Since 1998, we have recorded a steady decline in the amount of TRI chemicals released into the air, and since 2009 alone, we have seen more than a 100 million pound decrease in TRI air pollutants entering our communities,” an EPA spokesperson said. “This remarkable success is due in part to the TRI program and concerted efforts by industry, regulators and public interest groups to clean up the air we all depend upon.”

EPA has improved this year’s TRI national analysis report by adding new information about facility efforts to reduce pollution, insights into why air releases are declining, and an enhanced analysis of releases on tribal lands. With this report and EPA’s web-based TRI tools, citizens can access information about TRI-listed toxic chemical releases in their communities and across the country.

More information on the 2011 TRI study, including historical charts and graphs, is available online at EPA’s website.

1. Chemical manufacturers produce a variety of such as basic chemicals, products used by other manufacturers—i.e., synthetic fibers, plastics, pigments—and consumer products, i.e., paints, pharmaceuticals, detergents. Since 2003, this sector’s disposal or other releases decreased by 13%, mainly due to a reduction in air emissions.

2. The automotive sector includes facilities that assemble cars, light trucks, and utility vehicles to produced finished vehicles as well as plants that manufacture automotive vehicle bodies.