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Statistically Speaking: Toxic Releases: How Much Do We Really Know?

by Bill Chameides | March 26th, 2009
posted by Wendy Graber (Researcher)

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Do we know enough about the chemicals released to our air, water, and soil?

Last week the U.S. EPA issued the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) for 2007 – a compilation of the toxic chemicals and compounds that industries released to our land, water, and air during 2007. Great.

But does the TRI tell the whole toxic release story?

Amount of toxic material disposed of or released in 2007 according to TRI:  1.85 million tons

Total Number of Toxic Compounds
Reported in TRI: ~ 650
Listed under the Toxic Substance Control Act Inventory:  over 86,000*

New Chemicals
Every year industries manufacture new chemicals in new processes and/or for new products.
Number of new chemicals that enter the marketplace each year:
In the U.S.: ~750
In the U.S. for which we have no health and safety information: ~ 500**
In the European Union (EU) for which we have no health and safety information: 0***

Notes:

* Doesn’t include substances regulated under other laws, such as pesticides that are regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, and pharmaceuticals that are regulated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act.
** EPA can request that a chemical company conduct health and safety tests for a  new compound but to do so it must first establish a prima face case that the chemical may pose of hazard.
***The manufacture and release of chemicals in the EU are regulated by the Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization (REACH) legislation.

USA Today has produced a series with a searchable database that sheds light on toxic air pollution near the nation’s schools and neighborhoods.

Sources:
2007 TRI Public Data Release

GAO Report, Chemical Regulation: Comparison of U.S. and Recently Enacted European Union Approaches to Protect Against the Risks of Toxic Chemicals, August 2007 [pdf]

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