New Toxics Release Inventory data show decline in releases of certain chemicals

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its 2020 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis, which shows that environmental releases of TRI chemicals by facilities covered by the program declined by 10% between 2019 and 2020. The report summarizes TRI chemical waste management activities, including releases, that occurred during calendar year 2020. More than 21,000 facilities report annually on over 800 chemicals they release into the environment or otherwise manage as waste. EPA, states, and tribes receive TRI data from facilities in industry sectors such as manufacturing, mining, electric utilities, and commercial hazardous waste management.

“EPA is encouraged by the continued decrease in releases of toxic chemicals reported to the Toxics Release Inventory. Making this information publicly available also incentivizes companies to reduce pollution and gives communities tools to act locally – particularly underserved communities that have historically been disproportionately impacted by pollution.”

Michal Freedhoff, Assistant Administrator, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention

This 2020 Analysis includes enhancements to make data more useful and accessible to communities, including communities with environmental justice concerns. EPA has added demographic information to the “Where You Live” mapping tool, making it easy to overlay maps of facility locations with maps of overburdened and vulnerable communities. Community groups, policymakers, and other stakeholders can use this information to identify potential exposures to air and water pollution, better understand which communities are experiencing a disproportionate pollution burden, and take action at the local level.

To assist communities with reducing pollution, EPA is offering $23 million in grant funding opportunities for states and Tribes to develop and provide businesses with information, training, and tools to help them adopt pollution prevention practices. For the first time, approximately $14 million in grant funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is available with no cost sharing/matching requirement, increasing access to funding for all communities. These grants are a critical component of the President Biden’s Justice40 initiative by providing a meaningful benefit to communities impacted by legacy pollution issues. As such, EPA will administer this program in accordance with this initiative to ensure at least 40 percent of the benefits are delivered to underserved communities.

EPA is hosting a public webinar on March 23, 2022, highlighting the findings and trends from the 2020 TRI National Analysis and explaining the interactive features of the National Analysis website. Register for the webinar.

New Tools

In addition to the new community mapping tools, the National Analysis also includes a new map in the data visualization dashboard that displays international transfers of chemical waste by facilities in each state. The map includes information on the facility that shipped the waste, the destination country, and how the waste was managed in that country.

Additionally, the National Analysis includes a new profile of the cement manufacturing sector and the addition of greenhouse gas reporting information in certain sector profiles. Users will be able to track greenhouse gas emissions for electric utilities, chemical manufacturing, cement manufacturing, and other sectors. This section will also include information on the benefits of source reduction in these industries.

Notable Trends in 2020

Facilities that report to TRI avoided releasing into the environment more than 89 percent of the chemical-containing waste they created and managed during 2020 by using preferred practices such as recycling, energy recovery, and treatment. The 2020 Analysis showcases these industry best practices for preventing waste creation and reducing pollution. Facilities reported initiating nearly 3,000 new source reduction activities. EPA encourages facilities to learn from their counterparts’ best practices by using EPA’s Pollution Prevention Search Tool and adopt additional methods for reducing pollution.

The report also includes a discussion of chemical releases into the environment, including air releases, which decreased by 52 million pounds from 2019 to 2020, continuing a long-term trend, as well as summaries of regional chemical waste management activities, illustrating the geographic diversity of U.S. industrial operations.

PFAS Reporting

The 2020 Analysis is also the first to feature reporting on the 172 per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) added to TRI by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Facilities reported managing 800,000 pounds of these chemicals in 2020, but of that, only around 9,000 pounds were reported as releases. Most of the production-related PFAS waste was reported by hazardous waste management facilities or chemical manufacturers, and most releases of PFAS were reported by the chemical manufacturing sector.

EPA continues to work to better understand the seemingly limited scope of PFAS reporting. The agency has used existing data to generate lists of potential producers and recipients of PFAS waste, and has contacted facilities with potential reporting errors, as well as those that were expected to report but did not.

EPA also plans to enhance PFAS reporting under TRI by proposing a rulemaking this summer that would, among other changes, remove the eligibility of the de minimis exemption for PFAS. The de minimis exemption allows facilities that report to TRI to disregard certain minimal concentrations of chemicals in mixtures or trade name products. If finalized, this proposal would also make unavailable the de minimis exemption with regard to providing supplier notifications to downstream TRI facilities for PFAS and persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals.

Because PFAS are used at low concentrations in many products, the elimination of the de minimis exemption will result in a more complete picture of the releases and other waste management quantities for these chemicals.

To view the 2020 TRI National Analysis, including local data and analyses, visit Information on facility efforts to reduce TRI chemical releases is available at

Webinar: Agents of Change in Environmental Justice

Mar 10, 2022, 11 am CDT
Register here.

The International Society of Exposure Science is hosting this webinar to spotlight the environmental justice work of its fellows. The fellows’ work has included topics such as Indigenous cultural fire practices, Black food sovereignty, and vulnerability of disabled communities to wildfires.

Presenters:  Dr. Ami Zota, Dr. Yoshi Ornelas Van Horne, Misbath Daounda

Conservative justices express some support for limiting Biden’s ability to curtail greenhouse gas emissions

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

Before the Supreme Court, red states and the coal industry invoked the “major questions” doctrine, arguing that the administration lacks authority from Congress to counter climate change.

Coal giant Peabody announces joint venture focused on solar power and energy storage

Read the full story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

St. Louis-based Peabody Energy — the world’s largest private-sector coal company — announced Tuesday that it has launched a “renewable energy development company” called R3 Renewables.

Military action in radioactive Chernobyl could be dangerous for people and the environment

Much of the region around Chernobyl has been untouched by people since the nuclear disaster in 1986. Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

by Timothy A. Mousseau, University of South Carolina

The site of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ukraine has been surrounded for more than three decades by a 1,000-square-mile (2,600-square-kilometer) exclusion zone that keeps people out. On April 26, 1986, Chernobyl’s reactor number four melted down as a result of human error, releasing vast quantities of radioactive particles and gases into the surrounding landscape – 400 times more radioactivity to the environment than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Put in place to contain the radioactive contaminants, the exclusion zone also protects the region from human disturbance.

Apart from a handful of industrial areas, most of the exclusion zone is completely isolated from human activity and appears almost normal. In some areas, where radiation levels have dropped over time, plants and animals have returned in significant numbers.

fox against grassy background
A fox near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. T. A. Mousseau, 2019, CC BY-ND

Some scientists have suggested the zone has become an Eden for wildlife, while others are skeptical of that possibility. Looks can be deceiving, at least in areas of high radioactivity, where bird, mammal and insect population sizes and diversity are significantly lower than in the “clean” parts of the exclusion zone.

I’ve spent more than 20 years working in Ukraine, as well as in Belarus and Fukushima, Japan, largely focused on the effects of radiation. I have been asked many times over the past days why Russian forces entered northern Ukraine via this atomic wasteland, and what the environmental consequences of military activity in the zone might be.

As of the beginning of March 2022, Russian forces controlled the Chernobyl facility.

Why invade via Chernobyl?

In hindsight, the strategic benefits of basing military operations in the Chernobyl exclusion zone seem obvious. It is a large, unpopulated area connected by a paved highway straight to the Ukrainian capital, with few obstacles or human developments along the way. The Chernobyl zone abuts Belarus and is thus immune from attack from Ukrainian forces from the north. The reactor site’s industrial area is, in effect, a large parking lot suitable for staging an invading army’s thousands of vehicles.

The power plant site also houses the main electrical grid switching network for the entire region. It’s possible to turn the lights off in Kyiv from here, even though the power plant itself has not generated any electricity since 2000, when the last of Chernobyl’s four reactors was shut down. Such control over the power supply likely has strategic importance, although Kyiv’s electrical needs could probably also be supplied via other nodes on the Ukrainian national power grid.

The reactor site likely offers considerable protection from aerial attack, given the improbability that Ukrainian or other forces would risk combat on a site containing more than 5.3 million pounds (2.4 million kilograms) of radioactive spent nuclear fuel. This is the highly radioactive material produced by a nuclear reactor during normal operations. A direct hit on the power plant’s spent fuel pools or dry cask storage facilities could release substantially more radioactive material into the environment than the original meltdown and explosions in 1986 and thus cause an environmental disaster of global proportions.

grassy foreground with industrial buildings in the distance
View of the power plant site from a distance, with the containment shield structure in place over the destroyed reactor. T.A. Mousseau, CC BY-ND

Environmental risks on the ground in Chernobyl

The Chernobyl exclusion zone is among the most radioactively contaminated regions on the planet. Thousands of acres surrounding the reactor site have ambient radiation dose rates exceeding typical background levels by thousands of times. In parts of the so-called Red Forest near the power plant it’s possible to receive a dangerous radiation dose in just a few days of exposure.

Radiation monitoring stations across the Chernobyl zone recorded the first obvious environmental impact of the invasion. Sensors put in place by the Ukrainian Chernobyl EcoCenter in case of accidents or forest fires showed dramatic jumps in radiation levels along major roads and next to the reactor facilities starting after 9 p.m on Feb. 24, 2022. That’s when Russian invaders reached the area from neighboring Belarus.

Because the rise in radiation levels was most obvious in the immediate vicinity of the reactor buildings, there was concern that the containment structures had been damaged, although Russian authorities have denied this possibility. The sensor network abruptly stopped reporting early on Feb. 25 and did not restart until March 1, 2022, so the full magnitude of disturbance to the region from the troop movements is unclear.

If, in fact, it was dust stirred up by vehicles and not damage to any containment facilities that caused the rise in radiation readings, and assuming the increase lasted for just a few hours, it’s not likely to be of long-term concern, as the dust will settle again once troops move through.

But the Russian soldiers, as well as the Ukrainian power plant workers who have been held hostage, undoubtedly inhaled some of the blowing dust. Researchers know the dirt in the Chernobyl exclusion zone can contain radionuclides including cesium-137, strontium-90, several isotopes of plutonium and uranium, and americium-241. Even at very low levels, they’re all toxic, carcinogenic or both if inhaled.

aerial view of fire burning on wooded landscape
Forest fires, like this one in 2020 in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, can release radioactive particles that had been trapped in the burning materials. Volodymyr Shuvayev/AFP via Getty Images

Possible impacts further afield

Perhaps the greater environmental threat to the region stems from the potential release to the atmosphere of radionuclides stored in soil and plants should a forest fire ignite.

Such fires have recently increased in frequency, size and intensity, likely because of climate change, and these fires have released radioactive materials back into the air and and dispersed them far and wide. Radioactive fallout from forest fires may well represent the greatest threat from the Chernobyl site to human populations downwind of the region as well as the wildlife within the exclusion zone.

Currently the zone is home to massive amounts of dead trees and debris that could act as fuel for a fire. Even in the absence of combat, military activity – like thousands of troops transiting, eating, smoking and building campfires to stay warm – increases the risk of forest fires.

bird held in hands with tumor visible through feathers
A bird from Chernobyl with a tumor on its head. T. A. Mousseau, 2009, CC BY-ND

It’s hard to predict the effects of radioactive fallout on people, but the consequences to flora and fauna have been well documented. Chronic exposure to even relatively low levels of radionuclides has been linked to a wide variety of health consequences in wildlife, including genetic mutations, tumors, eye cataracts, sterility and neurological impairment, along with reductions in population sizes and biodiversity in areas of high contamination.

There is no “safe” level when it comes to ionizing radiation. The hazards to life are in direct proportion to the level of exposure. Should the ongoing conflict escalate and damage the radiation confinement facilities at Chernobyl, or at any of the 15 nuclear reactors at four other sites across Ukraine, the magnitude of harm to the environment would be catastrophic.

Timothy A. Mousseau, Professor of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As Biden plans EV charger rollout, location questions take the fore

Read the full story at Smart Cities Dive.

Cities are placing charging stations in under-resourced neighborhoods. The efforts could guide state plans that must meet equity goals to qualify for federal funds.

Chemical Accident Prevention: EPA Should Ensure Regulated Facilities Consider Risks from Climate Change

Download the document.

What GAO Found

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk Management Plan (RMP) Rule requires certain facilities that make, use, handle, or store hazardous substances (chemicals) to develop and implement a risk management program to detect and prevent or minimize the consequences of an accidental release. These facilities, known as RMP facilities, include chemical manufacturers and water treatment plants. Federal data on flooding, storm surge, wildfire, and sea level rise—natural hazards that may be exacerbated by climate change—indicate that over 3,200 of the 10,420 facilities we analyzed, or about 31 percent, are located in areas with these natural hazards (see figure). View the full results of GAO’s analysis here.

RMP Facilities Located in Areas That May Be Impacted by Flooding, Storm Surge, Wildfire, or Sea Level Rise

Notes: This map does not include one RMP facility in each of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Storm surge data are not available for the West Coast and Pacific islands other than Hawaii, and sea level rise data are not available for Alaska.

RMP facilities face several challenges, including insufficient information and direction, in managing risks from natural hazards and climate change, according to some EPA officials and stakeholders. By issuing regulations, guidance, or both to clarify requirements and provide direction on how to incorporate these risks into risk management programs, EPA can better ensure that facilities are managing risks from all relevant hazards. When developing any such regulation, EPA should, pursuant to relevant executive orders, conduct a cost-benefit analysis.

Why GAO Did This Study

Over 11,000 RMP facilities across the nation have extremely hazardous chemicals in amounts that could harm people, property, or the environment if accidentally released. Risks to these facilities include those posed by natural hazards, which may damage the facilities and potentially release the chemicals into surrounding communities. Climate change may make some natural hazards more frequent or intense, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

GAO was asked to review climate change risks at RMP facilities. This report examines, among other things, (1) what available federal data indicate about RMP facilities in areas with natural hazards that may be exacerbated by climate change; and (2) challenges RMP facilities face in managing risks from natural hazards and climate change, and opportunities for EPA to address these challenges. GAO analyzed federal data on RMP facilities and four natural hazards that may be exacerbated by climate change, reviewed agency documents, and interviewed agency officials and stakeholders, such as industry representatives.

EPA issues enforcement alert regarding ski wax products containing perfluorinated chemicals

Read the full story in the National Law Review.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) issued a January 2022 enforcement alert entitled “Violations May Put Ski Wax Users at Risk from Illegal Perfluoroalkyl Substances.” According to the enforcement alert, EPA has identified several high-performance ski wax consumer products that contain perfluorinated chemicals that were not reviewed by EPA for health risks under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). EPA notes that these wax products are intended for use on sports equipment to enhance the performance of the equipment’s slick surfaces that are in contact with snow.

As compost volumes grow, policy and research help boost market expansion

Read the full story in Waste Dive.

As organics recycling expands, composters are continuously exploring market options. Transportation projects, carbon sequestration, green roofs and cannabis farming are among many opportunities.

DOE will build nation’s first large-scale facility to turn fossil fuel waste into rare materials for tech

Read the full story from CNN.

The vast majority of critical minerals and rare earth elements that help power electric vehicles and wind turbines come from mining operations overseas. But a new initiative spearheaded by the US Department of Energy is looking for ways to extract them from fossil fuel waste.

The Energy Department plans to build the nation’s first large facility to extract critical minerals like nickel and cobalt from waste like coal ash. Those metals could then be used in components for renewable-energy batteries, cell phones and electric vehicles, among other technologies.

On Monday, the department is releasing a request for information from industry, developers and research institutions on how to build and operate the new facility, shared first with CNN.