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TRI Helps Communities Help Themselves


Jan Erickson, Information Management Division

In 1984, a deadly cloud of methyl isocyanate killed thousands of people in Bhopal, India. This and other incidents underscored demands by industrial workers and communities in several states for information on hazardous materials. In response to rising public concern, Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) requiring U.S. manufacturers to report amounts of toxic chemicals released into the environment. The resulting database became known as the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

In keeping with Congressional intent in passing the legislation, EPA endeavored to make the Inventory widely available to citizens groups, labor organizations, academia, the media and other potential users. A variety of information products were developed, ranging from printed reports highlighting particular facets of the Inventory to CD-ROMs and online systems for searching, displaying, and downloading records electronically. More recently, TRI data has been available on the Internet. (For more information, contact the TRI User Support Service at (202) 260-1531.)

Outreach activities, by both EPA and public interest groups, were also very successful in raising public awareness of TRI. Communities began to use TRI to initiate dialogues with local facilities to encourage manufacturers to reduce their emissions, develop pollution prevention plans, and improve safety measures. Labor organizers used TRI as a basis for discussions with employers regarding safety in the work place. National, state and local officials are now using TRI to identify the most pressing environmental problems and set priorities for addressing them. Most importantly, reporting facilities themselves use the data to identify opportunities to prevent pollution and set goals for reducing toxic chemical emissions.

And what has been the result of all this attention? TRI has become a powerful force for reducing pollution! Analyses reveal that toxic chemical releases have declined dramatically since the inception of TRI. A number of voluntary programs for reducing chemical emissions have sprung up at the local, state, and national levels. In many states, TRI provided the impetus for passage of legislation requiring facilities to engage in pollution prevention planning. TRI was expanded to include Federal facilities, additional chemicals, and to require reporting of additional data.

Source: RTK Net, Washington, DC

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