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 www.epa.gov/trinationalanalysis. Information on facility efforts to reduce TRI chemical releases is available at www.epa.gov/tri/p2.

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