chemical releases

The EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: Facilities Preventing Pollution

By Kara Koehrn

Our economy produces goods that we depend on in our daily lives, like pharmaceuticals, clothing and cars. Sometimes during the production of those goods, toxic chemicals are released into the environment. But what can be done? Are these inevitable or is there something businesses can do to reduce or even eliminate their releases?

As Americans, we are empowered with information to help answer these questions through EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). I work for TRI, and my coworkers and I are proud to continue a community-right-to-know tradition at EPA in which TRI provides information to the public about toxic chemical releases to air, water and land right on our website. But now we are going further, highlighting examples of how industry is preventing pollution. Here is just a sample:

  • In 2011, many electric utilities installed scrubbers on their stacks which reduced air releases of hazardous air pollutants, including hydrochloric acid and mercury.
  • In the chemical manufacturing industry, some facilities improved their maintenance and production schedules to reduce toxic chemical releases in 2011. One reported reducing ammonia releases to water (a contributor to eutrophication) after instituting better process control and operator training.
  • A facility in the computer and electronics sector reported that in response to a customer’s demand for lead-free services, it used a lead-free product surface finishing line in 2011, and expects to expand this service to other customers.

Facilities report real-world success stories like these to TRI each year, and we are highlighting them in our annual analysis of TRI data, the TRI National Analysis. We publish this report every year, but EPA employees aren’t the only ones who can analyze TRI data. You can use TRI’s new pollution prevention search tool to see which industrial facilities reported the largest reductions and what measures were most effective in achieving these results. Take a look!

I hope you check out the National Analysis and try the new pollution prevention tool to see what toxic chemicals are being released nationwide and what is being done to help clean up your air, water, and land. After all, it’s your right to know.

About the author: Kara Koehrn joined EPA’s Office of Environment Information in Washington, D.C. in 2009 and is the project leader for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis. She has recently sold her car to take full advantage of public transportation in D.C.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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The EPA Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: Celebrating 25 Years of Community-Right-to-Know

By Kara Koehrn

In 1984, when a deadly cloud of chemical gas killed thousands of people in Bhopal India, a power movement was set in motion. Back then, Americans had little access to information about chemicals in their neighborhood. The spill in Bhopal along with another accident at a sister plant in West Virginia, awakened public interest in knowing more about potential hazards. Communities demanded information about toxic chemicals being released outside facilities, and it was in this environment that the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) was created by the Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act in 1986.

25 years later, my coworkers and I are proud to continue the community-right-to-know tradition with the publication of this year’s TRI data and analysis. The report is called the TRI National Analysis and it can tell you whether toxic chemical releases have increased or decreased nationwide, what chemicals are being released in the Denver area, which industries are releasing the highest amounts in the Los Angeles area, or whether toxic chemical releases have increased in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Take a look!

I am especially excited for this year’s analysis because it includes new features designed to make TRI data more informative and relevant. We have worked with economists to incorporate information on how the economy may be affecting TRI releases, included risks associated with TRI chemicals, more information on what facilities have done to help reduce their chemical releases, and translated even more materials than ever before into Spanish.

We publish the National Analysis every year, but EPA employees aren’t the only ones who can conduct analyses on TRI data. Any member of the public can analyze or 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 (myRight-to-Know,) which I can access on my smart phone. But if I am at home and want to see long-term trends of TRI releases I use TRI Explorer or TRI.NET. Want to try? Follow this link to TRI’s tools.

We have come a long way since 1984, and 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, D.C. 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.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

The EPA Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis: So What’s In Your Neighborhood?

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 cover_national_analysis_200released 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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Hollywood Doesn’t Always Portray Things From the Right ASPECT

About the author: Jeffrey Robichaud is a second generation scientist with EPA who started in 1998.  He serves as Chief of the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch in Kansas City.

Movies require you to suspend your disbelief, but when you watch a film that hits close to home it can be tough. I have a friend in federal law enforcement who squirms when cardboard cutout agents run across the screen. Action flicks don’t do his profession justice, but at least his job is sometimes glorified on celluloid. The only two movies I can remember featuring a prominent EPA employee are Ghostbusters and the Simpsons Movie, neither of which ever made a kid say, “Man, when I grow up I want to work for the EPA.” On the off-chance your youngster was inspired to seek out public service please let them know we don’t inspect unlicensed nuclear storage facilities, nor do we have a fleet of helicopters. We do however, have one cool plane.

photo of front of plane with a group of people standing nearbyEPA’s Airborne Spectral Photometric Collection Technology, known as ASPECT, is an aircraft equipped with sensors that allow for surveillance of gaseous chemical releases from a safe distance. ASPECT gives emergency responders information regarding the shape, composition and concentration of gas plumes from disasters such as a derailed train, factory explosion or terrorist attack.

Since its inception ASPECT has flown over several fires, provided support during the Olympics and Columbia shuttle recovery, and supplied some of the first aerial images of the devastation along the coast during Katrina.

view of city horizon with a large plume of blue smoke rising over a highwayThis was the scene in Kansas City outside our office windows in 2007 when a chemical facility went up in flames. ASPECT deployed and was instrumental in verifying that while ominous, the fire did not present a significant health threat to the community (the white signature you see below is the fire).>overhead image from plane with white area indicating fire

Most of the technology you see in movies is sheer fantasy, but EPA’s high-tech plane and the scientists who operate it are worthy of a spot in the next summer blockbuster. Here’s hoping for the appearance of an EPA scientist who isn’t a bad guy (although with my face the best I could hope for is Thug #4 in the next straight to DVD clunker).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.