TRI

Navigating Your Right to Know About Toxic Chemicals

By Sarah Swenson

When I joined EPA six years ago after earning my Master’s degree, I reached a goal I’d had since middle school.  I now worked for the government organization with the most important mission I could think of: protecting human health and the environment. When I started my new job in the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program, it was clear that I’d landed in a unique and important program office at EPA.

TRI should be an important topic for all of us. This program, established by the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, is all about ensuring that people have access to information on industrial use of toxic chemicals. TRI can tell you what chemicals the facility down the street is using, how much is going into the air, water, and land, and what that company is doing to prevent and reduce pollution. And, this information is all in one place!

The program has grown significantly since my arrival.  In 2012, I led a team tasked with redesigning the TRI website. At the time, the site included some useful resources, but lacked logical organization, updated content, and materials tailored to community members. This project was a chance to improve the quality of existing information, create new webpages, and present everything in a clear and understandable way.

Today the website looks very different. The number of resources for concerned citizens and community groups is increasing, as is the amount of content translated into Spanish. Interactive webpages let users explore a TRI facility while learning common TRI terms that will help them understand TRI data. Two tools on the TRI homepage give instant access to facility-level data and factsheets for cities and zip codes, and the “TRI in Action” report gives examples of how the data can be used. A webpage devoted to TRI’s pollution prevention data explains how TRI can help identify which companies are working toward improving their environmental performance.

Although we launched the new TRI website in 2013, we’re still working to make it better, and your comments and suggestions can help! We’re hosting a webinar on June 23 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. EDT to point out some of the newest additions, demonstrate the easiest way to find TRI data for your community, and get your feedback.  We look forward to hearing from you!

About the author: Sarah Swenson is the Communications Coordinator and Web Content Manager for the Toxics Release Inventory Program.

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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It’s Your Right to Know: The Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis

By Caitlin Briere

In order to make the products on which we depend, like pharmaceuticals, clothing, and other manufactured goods, companies across the U.S. use thousands of chemicals in their normal operations. Many of the chemicals necessary to these economic activities are toxic. While most are managed so that they will not harm the environment, some releases of toxic chemicals occur. You have a right to know what chemicals are being used and released in your community.

A “release” refers to the emission, discharge, or disposal of chemicals by industrial facilities operating under permits designed to protect human health and the environment. Only a very small portion of annual release totals involve accidental releases such as chemical spills. The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) gives people access to data on these chemical releases as well as pollution prevention activities at industrial facilities across the country. I use this data to learn about industrial releases near my home or in a city I’m visiting. I also explore what facilities are doing to prevent pollution and reduce their releases, and how they compare to similar facilities across the US.

Each year, we take a close look at how facilities are managing toxic chemicals, and publish a report called the TRI National Analysis. In addition to providing a printable version of the report, this year we’ve completely redesigned the National Analysis website. You’ll find interlinked chapters that make it easier to navigate between topics, interactive graphics that tell the story of the TRI data, and links to EPA tools and resources that will help you explore EPA’s other environmental information.

I’m most excited about the new “Where You Live” feature, which provides information about chemical releases at local levels as well as national snapshots of releases to air, water, and land in all states. You can also explore analyses of U.S. metropolitan areas, major watersheds, and TRI facilities on Tribal lands. Do you want to know how industrial releases in your city compare to the rest of the country? Are you thinking of moving, and want to check out what facilities might be near your new neighborhood? The interactive maps in the “Where You Live” section can give you these answers.

I hope that you check out the new TRI National Analysis, and use these interactive analyses to find out what chemicals are being released in areas that you care about and what’s being done to prevent releases – because it’s your right to know.

About the author: Caitlin Briere joined EPA’s Office of Information Analysis and Access in 2010. She works on projects that focus on increasing public awareness and use of the TRI data, including the TRI National Analysis and the TRI University Challenge.

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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Publicación del Análisis Nacional del Inventario de Emisiones Tóxicas de EPA: Instalaciones preveniendo la contaminación

Por Kara Koehrn
Nuestra economía produce bienes de los que dependemos en nuestra vida cotidiana, como los productos farmacéuticos, ropa y automóviles. A veces durante la producción de dichos productos químicos tóxicos son liberados en el medio ambiente. Pero, ¿qué se puede hacer? ¿Son estas descargas inevitables o hay algo que pueden hacer las empresas para reducir o incluso eliminar sus emisiones?
Como estadounidenses tenemos el poder de tener estainformación para ayudar a responder estas preguntas mediante el Inventario de Emisiones Tóxicas de la EPA (TRI, por sus siglas al inglés). Yo trabajo en el programa del TRI, y mis compañeros de trabajo y yo estamos orgullosos de continuar la  tradición de la EPA de informar a las comunidades acerca de su derecho-a-saber en la cual el TRI proporciona información al público sobre la emisión de sustancias químicas tóxicas directamente al aire, el agua y la tierra mediante nuestro sitio web. Ahora este año vamos más allá, destacando ejemplos de cómo la industria está previniendo la contaminación. He aquí una muestra:
– En 2011, muchas compañías de electricidad han instalado depuradores en sus chimeneas que redujeron las emisiones al aire de contaminantes peligrosos del aire, incluyendo el ácido clorhídrico y el mercurio.
– En la industria de fabricación de productos químicos, algunos centros han mejorado su mantenimiento y cronogramas de producción  reduciendo las emisiones de sustancias químicas tóxicas en el 2011. Uno de ellos mencionó la reducción de emisiones de amoníaco al agua (que contribuyen a la eutrofización) al implementar un mejor control de procesos y capacitación de los operadores.
– Una instalación en el sector electrónico y computacional informó que en respuesta a la demanda de sus clientes para servicios libres de plomo, se utilizó una línea de producción para la aplicación libre de plomo en el 2011, y se espera ampliar este servicio a otros clientes.

Las  instalaciones están informando al mundo acerca de las historias reales de éxito que se producen  cada año en el TRI, y los estamos destacando en nuestro análisis anual de los datos del TRI. Publicamos este informe todos los años, pero los empleados de la EPA no son los únicos que pueden analizar los datos del TRI. Usted puede utilizar la nueva herramienta de búsqueda del TRI de la prevención de la contaminación  para ver cuáles instalaciones industriales registraron las mayores reducciones y qué medidas son más eficaces en el logro de estos resultados. ¡Echa un vistazo!

Espero que ustedes lean los análisis nacionales y prueben la nueva herramienta de prevención de la contaminación para ver qué productos químicos tóxicos están siendo descargados en todo el país, y lo que se está haciendo para ayudar a limpiar el aire, el agua y la tierra. Después de todo, es su derecho a saber.

Sobre el autor: Kara Koehrn se unió a la Oficina de Información Ambiental de la EPA en Washington, DC en 2009 y es la líder del proyecto para el Análisis Nacional del Inventario de Emisiones Tóxicas (TRI). Recientemente ha vendido su coche para sacar el máximo provecho del transporte público en Washington DC.

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’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.

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Pollution Prevention from Local to National

By Angela Miller

Three years ago I relocated to Washington, DC from Michigan to work for the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR). Growing up along the Lake Michigan shoreline and near several inland lakes nurtured my reverence of nature and its connection to humanity. The community I grew up in was as well known for its natural beauty as it was for its history with pollution and toxic chemicals. Two lakes that are listed as Areas of Concern and a Superfund site all within a short drive of my childhood home inspired me to take up a career in environmental protection.

Working with NPPR, a national member based non-profit which provides a national forum for promoting the development, implementation, and evaluation of efforts to avoid, eliminate, or reduce pollution at the source, has afforded me an opportunity to work on a national level to prevent pollution problems like those that plagued my hometown during my childhood.

NPPR’s projects, especially those of recent, have focused on toxics reduction and elimination.
NPPR was awarded this summer a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant from the U.S. EPA to, among other project tasks, pilot a Safer Chemistry Challenge Program (SPPC) in the Great Lakes region. Another recent project is co-sponsoring the “2012 National Training Conference on the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and Environmental Conditions in Communities” along with the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) and the U.S. EPA. Our co-sponsorship of this exciting conference provided the context for which EPA’s Office of Environmental Information invited me to participate in this Greenversations Blog. The April 11 – 13, 2012 conference will focus on pollution prevention (P2) and using Toxics Release Inventory data to promote sustainability. A call for abstracts deadline is November 19. Projects such as those bring me back to childhood aspirations to reduce or eliminate toxics that are released in communities to preserve both nature’s splendor and human health.

About the author: Angela Miller is the Deputy Director of the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable.

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.

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Science Wednesday – Apps for the Environment: The New Way of Communicating Science and Information

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.
By Jing Zhang

Want to know the weather tomorrow, the next movie showing, or the latest Hollywood gossip? There’s an app for that! In the age of smart phones, answers are literally at your fingertips on your iPhone or Android device. There’s no need to scour the internet for solutions when you can simply download an app that will gather the relevant information for you in a user-friendly application on your phone.

Working in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, I constantly hear of the developments and data that Agency researchers and scientists have produced. These scientists work diligently year around on protecting the environment and human health as outlined in Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s Seven Priorities. What better way is there for communicating the resources and discoveries of EPA researchers than in an easy-to-use app on your mobile device?

challengebanner_MThe EPA Apps for the Environment Challenge invites software developers to use EPA data to develop apps so the public can understand or protect the environment in their daily lives. Want to know the air quality where you live or which cars have the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions? There could be an app for that!

EPA has a lot of data that is publicly available. This data includes information from the Toxic Release Inventory which tells you facilities that dispose of or release toxic chemicals, real time air quality monitoring, green vehicle guide that gives environmental performance guides for vehicles, a Superfund website, and chemical toxicity information from the ToxCast database. Because these datasets are overwhelming for those with less technical and scientific knowledge like me, EPA held a series of webinars where data owners explained the information.

If you’re like me and don’t know the first thing about developing an app, you can still participate by submitting ideas for apps. These ideas are useful in providing developers and researchers a window of insight into the needs and wants of the public.

For more information and rules, visit the Apps for the Environment website. The deadline for submissions is September 16. In the meantime, you can find out the latest information on Twitter, just search #greenapps.

About the Author: Jing Zhang is a student services contractor working with the science communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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.

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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.

My Right-to-Know: Know on the Go

By Pam Russell

Imagine riding along on a sunny day with your window down and suddenly become aware of a nasty smell coming from a industrial plant along the highway. What kind of manufacturing process would result in such a bad smell? What kinds of chemicals are being spewed out and what could that mean to you and your health? What if you could consult your mobile phone to find out more? No, you don’t need to call the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). You can learn a lot from EPA’s mobile website, MyRTK (as in, Right to Know), right from your handy web-enabled mobile phone or device.

Take a minute right now so that you will be ready when you see something you want to check. Click on the “apps “tab of EPA’s Mobile home page and select “MyRTK” or you can point your browser to http://m.epa.gov/myrtk. If your device has a GIS chip, click on the map tab to see your current location. If not, use the search feature to find facilities in your neighborhood.

What happens next? You’ll get a screen where you can type in any location. Maybe you’re on the New Jersey Turnpike just past Newark Airport. You could type in “Newark” or “Newark, NJ”. Within just a few clicks, you’ll be able to map and identify the surrounding facilities, the chemicals they handle and what’s in their releases, the potential health effects of those chemicals, and the compliance history of the facilities releasing the chemicals. While the information on facilities and chemical disposals or releases is drawn primarily from the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI data base), facilities with major Air, Water or RCRA (hazardous waste disposal) permits are also mapped. TRI facilities have blue map pins; all others have gray map pins. The information on compliance for all facilities is drawn from the Enforcement and Compliance History Online System.

If you want to report a possible violation or contact someone, click on the “What can I do?” at the bottom of the facility information page for links to EPA’s violation reporting page and information on how to contact state personnel or EPA’s Regional staff.

The MyRTK mobile application is an important advance in giving people access to information. With MyRTK, anyone can easily access information about the surrounding environment and learn what chemicals disposals and releases may mean to their local community.

Feedback on this new application is welcome. Use the “Feedback” button at the bottom of the Facility Information page to send us your comments.

About the author: Pam Russell is a scientist who works on the development of TRI tools in the Office of Environmental Information. She enjoys working on issues that make EPA’s science and information more accessible to the public.

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.

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Knowing Your Rights

About the author: Cory Wagner joined EPA’s Office of Environmental Information in 2005. He is currently the project manager for the development of the Toxics Release Inventory-Made Easy (TRI-ME) and TRI-MEweb reporting assistance software.

Cory WagnerIndividual rights have certainly been in the news lately. From the Olympic Torch being doused in France in protest of suspected human rights abuses in China, to the Supreme Court reviewing the DC gun ban in light of the Second Amendment, to the continuing struggle to balance an individual’s right to privacy against the safety of the general public in a post-911 world, one can hardly read a newspaper these days without seeing an article about rights. This makes sense as we are a nation built on rights. The rights of the individual are crucial to our way of life and the backbone of democracy.

In 1986, Congress added a new individual right with the passage of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). This act gave local communities access to environmental information about chemical hazards located nearby. You may have wondered “just what is coming out of that smoke stack on that building near my home?”

Well, I currently work in the program that implements part of EPCRA, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). Each year, we collect data on releases and transfers of chemicals from industry and make it available to the public. The answer to the question posed above is readily available to you through the use of on-line TRI data tools such as TRI Explorer, Envirofacts, and the electronic Facility Data Report (eFDR). We are continually making efforts to make the TRI information available to you in easy-to-understand formats and as close to the time that we collect it as possible. The TRI program will continue to work hard to ensure that you are always able to exercise your right to know.

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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