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Publication date: Nov. 3, 2005


EPA's September 2005 proposal to cut back on information about what toxic substances are released into communities' air, water, and land have alarmed a number of environmental groups worried they will increase the toxic burden on poor people and ethnic minorities.

Since 1988, TRI has been a staple for environmental reporters seeking a picture of toxic emissions in their readership areas - emissions which may not always be fully regulated or controlled. Companies have complained about the negative publicity it brings, but companies and environmentalists alike agree with EPA's assessment that the public disclosure has caused a large amount of cleanup by industries during that period.

The watchdog group OMB Watch has published a long list of examples of how EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) has helped communities, cities, and states fight toxic pollution at the local level. The list includes Louisville, KY; Phoenix, AZ; Green Bay, WI; Peoria, IL; Dorchester, MA; Modesto, CA; Seattle, WA; Albion, NY; Chicago, IL; Homer, AK.

A group in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood used TRI to discover the source of nearby lead pollution of their air. Environmentalists near Toledo used TRI to get a factory there to reduce toxic beryllium emissions. Another group near Cincinnati used it to get a chemical plant to reduce air emissions of chloromethane.

EPA's Sept. 2005 proposal, the most recent in a long series of TRI cutbacks in the name of "burden reduction" for industry, has two main parts.

The first would make it easier for companies to qualify for use of the streamlined "Form A" to report their toxic emission estimates instead of the standard, more detailed "Form R." EPA claims that would save them roughly 165,000 hours of paperwork each year while retaining full Form R reporting on over 99% of toxic releases and other waste management activities.

But environmentalists dispute that, saying the reporting burden is not nearly as great as EPA and industry groups complain, and that it is not felt as a burden by most companies. According to counts by the group RTK Net, which publishes environmental databases, about 10% of communities with TRI facilities would lose all of their numerical data if the proposal were adopted. About 25% of communities would lose at least 25% of their numerical data, the group said.

The second part of EPA's proposal would change the current annual reporting requirement so that companies would only have to report once every two years. Environmental groups fear this would make it possible for companies to schedule their big emissions or off-site transfers in the off-years and make their true annual emissions look smaller than they really were.

The deadline for comments on the first proposal (more use of Form A) is Dec. 5, 2005. EPA would not formally propose the second one (biennial reporting) until the fall of 2006.

Last revised January 22, 2013

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