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.

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