By Kara Koehrn
Have you ever wondered what’s coming out of that factory stack you pass on the way home, or whether there are chemicals being released upstream from your favorite fishing spot? If so, maybe I can help you. I work with the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which was designed to help the public answer questions just like these.
Before I came to EPA I knew very little about TRI. However, without realizing it, I had already read about chemical releases in news articles and scientific papers that used numbers from the TRI public database of chemical releases to the environment. I have since learned that TRI is a database with detailed information on over 600 toxic chemicals from over 20,000 U.S. facilities nationwide. You and I have access to information about disposal or other releases of chemicals into the environment as well as information about how facilities manage chemicals through recycling, energy recovery and treatment!
Over the past several months I have been involved in the preparation of the 2009 TRI National Analysis, which is EPA’s annual interpretation of TRI data. I was very excited to work on this project because TRI is such a rich database. It has a seemingly endless number of ways to slice the data and reveal national and local trends of releases to the environment including by chemical, geographic region, parent company, industry sector, etc.
This year I am especially eager for the release of the National Analysis because we have incorporated some exciting new features. It now includes analyses specific to 13 of the most populous urban areas in the country. Would you like to know about toxic chemical releases in the Denver area? What about Miami? How do they compare? The National Analysis also includes analyses for tribal lands and ecosystems like the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico. Take a look!
But EPA employees aren’t the only ones who can conduct analyses like these. Any member of the public can look up what chemicals are being released in an area. My favorite tool to use for quick information about chemical releases in my zip code is myRTK, which I can access on my smart phone. But if I am at home and want to see long-term trends of TRI releases for an area I use TRI Explorer or TRI.NET. Want to try? Follow this link to TRI’s tools.
I hope you take a look at the National Analysis and maybe even try a few of our analysis tools to see what chemicals are being released into your neighborhood. After all, it’s your right to know.
About the author: Kara Koehrn joined EPA’s Office of Environment Information in Washington DC in 2009 and is the project leader for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis. She recently started a potted vegetable garden at her row house apartment in the city to grow fresh food locally without pesticides.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.