Toxic Pollution Rose 5 Percent in 2002
By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer
, June 22, 2004
volume of toxic pollutants released into the atmosphere in the United States
rose 5 percent in 2002, the first increase since 1997, the government
Those two years are the only ones to show an increase since the
Environmental Protection Agency began keeping track of the billions of pounds of pollution
under a 1986 law. In 1997, the increase was half as much — 2.5 percent.
Even with the most recent rise — a dramatic turnaround from the 13
percent decline in 2001 — environmentalists say the EPA is still letting
industry underreport the amount of air pollution by 330 million pounds a
"It's time that the EPA and the states deal with the problem of
inaccurate and flawed reporting of toxic releases," said Kelly Haragan of
the Rockefeller Family Fund's Environmental Integrity Project.
Some 4.79 billion pounds were released in 2002, the latest for
which figures are available, not including releases from metal mining, the
EPA reported. The agency stopped including that data because of a recent
court decision in an industry challenge.
The EPA began releasing its annual Toxics Release Inventory
piecemeal, earlier than planned, in response to criticism by Haragan's group
and the Texas-based Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention.
Kimberly Terese Nelson, the EPA's chief information officer, blamed
the "extraordinarily large change" in the pollution trends on the shutdown
of a BHP Copper Co. plant in Arizona.
Dismantling a plant turns components and product into waste.
"If we were take that one facility out we would see a 3 percent
decrease," she said of the releases of 650 chemicals by 24,379 facilities
that EPA tracks. Last year, 25,388 facilities reported their findings.
The agency reported a 10 percent increase in releases of mercury —
which Nelson blamed on a single gold mine — and a 3.2 percent increase in
releases of lead.
It is the second year in a row that the EPA is requiring facilities
to tell state and federal authorities about lead releases of more than 100
pounds. Previously, it required data only if more than 10,000 pounds were
used or more than 25,000 pounds produced.
Dioxin, a chemical that is worrisome in even small amounts,
decreased by 5 percent from the previous year.
The annual inventory is considered by EPA officials as one of the
most important things the agency does, and is routinely criticized by some
companies as too demanding and by some health and environmental groups as
The study Tuesday from the two advocacy groups cast it as
particularly soft on refineries and chemical plants, keeping as much as 16
percent of the nation's air pollution "off the books."
Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., a senior member of the Senate Environment
and Public Works Committee, said the pollution count shows the Bush
administration is largely ignoring environmental protection.
"It's no wonder that polluters feel free to increase their toxic
releases of mercury, lead and other hazardous substances," he said. "This
just proves that the policies of the Bush administration have moved us
backward, not forward, on the environment."
The biggest polluters in recent years have been hard-rock mining
companies and coal-burning power plants, according to the EPA.
Last year, Nelson told Congress the EPA and the White House Office
of Management and Budget wanted to make reporting easier, faster and less
burdensome for companies. One of the changes being considered, she said,
included a shorter reporting form listing only the types of chemical used.
The longer forms now required of many companies let the public know
what types of chemical are used and the amounts, and whether they were
recycled or released as waste into the air, water or land.
On the Net: EPA Toxics Release Inventory:
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