Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

EPA’s Latest National TRI Inventory Shows Continuing Reductions in Releases

Posted by Jon Elliott on Thu, Mar 08, 2018

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires selected facilities to file Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reports on either Form R or Form A, electronically to EPA and their state every July 1. These TRI reports are mandated by Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA; also known as SARA Title III since it was enacted as part of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986). (I summarized TRI reporting requirements here).

Section 313 also requires EPA to provide a national computerized data base of all toxic chemical release inventory information, accessible by “any person.” EPA also provides disaggregated information via its “TRI Explorer” searchable online database.

EPA has just reported TRI information from reporting year 2016, which facilities were to have reported by July 1, 2017. The remainder of this note discusses these latest data.

What Do the National Numbers Show?

EPA provides an extensive (111 page) summary of national information from 2016, and makes a number of comparisons with 2006, to show trends over the last decade. EPA reports that:

  • 21,600 facilities located in every state reported to TRI for 2016

  • Industrial facilities managed 27.80 billion pounds of TRI-listed chemicals as production-related waste, including chemicals in waste that is recycled, burned for energy recovery, treated, disposed of, or otherwise released into the environment.

- 44% were recycled

- 32% were treated

- 11% were burned for energy recovery

- 13% was disposed of or otherwise released to air, water and land. Land disposal, largely from metal mining, accounted for 66% of releases

  • 2,306 of these facilities implemented nearly 5,900 new source reduction activities in 2016 to eliminate or reduce chemical waste generation
EPA’s report also includes a number of comparisons with 2006, to show trends over the past decade. This information includes:
  • Releases declined 21% (although similar to 2015)

- Disposal or other releases of TRI chemicals decreased by 21%, driven mainly by declining air releases, down 58% (829 million pounds)

- Production-related waste managed increased by 2.2 billion pounds (9%), while:

  • Disposal and other releases decreased by 1.0 billion pounds (-23%)
  • Treatment increased by 40.3 million pounds (1%)
  • Energy recovery increased by 44.3 million pounds (2%)
  • Recycling increased by 3.1 billion pounds (35%)

What Does This Mean?

When enacted in 1986, the TRI program marked a distinct departure from nearly two decades of “command and control” regulation – Section 313 does not require facilities to do anything more than report specified activities, it does not require them to reduce emissions or substitute chemicals. It was prompted in part by environmental and public health advocates, who had complained that fragmented reporting under environmental laws (Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, etc.) made it very difficult for them to assemble useful information about total releases from facilities, and to measure the extent to which the various laws complemented each other or allowed regulated entities to shift releases across media to reduce costs and perhaps to defeat attempts to reduce total burdens on the environment. Many practitioners suspected that increased information would lead reporting facilities to reduce emissions, whether voluntarily and/or because advocates would use the information to develop lawsuits.

The last numbers, and the comparisons with past numbers, make it clear that these major industrial facilities are reducing their use of the more than 600 chemicals and “families” of chemicals subject to Section 313 reporting requirements. These trends have been fairly continuous, not just for the decade covered by this year’s EPA report, but for nearly three decades.

Self-Assessment Checklist

Has my organization identified facilities with activities in business sectors potentially subject to EPCRA Section 313?

- Did it file Reporting Year 2016 Form R or Form A reports for each subject facility, no later than July 1, 2017?

- Is it preparing to file Reporting Year 2017 Form R or Form A reports for each subject facility, no later than July 1, 2018?

- Has it reviewed EPA’s summary of information, on the TRI Explorer database?

Does the organization review disaggregated information for other facilities, and/or aggregated information?

Where Do I Go For More Information?

Specialty Technical Publishers (STP) provides a variety of single-law and multi-law services, intended to facilitate clients’ understanding of and compliance with requirements. These include:

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About the Author

Jon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. He was involved in developing 13 existing products, including Environmental Compliance: A Simplified National Guide and The Complete Guide to Environmental Law.

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

photo credit: OutlawMenacePhotography green stacks via photopin (license)

Tags: Environmental risks, Environmental, EPA, Hazcom