Albion Monitor /News

Industry Trusted To Report Toxics

by Gaynell Terrell

(IPS) LITTLE ROCK -- State and federal regulators allow U.S. industry to legally pour millions of kilograms of pollutants into the environment -- but there is a catch.

Since 1987, companies have had to report publicly what harmful chemicals they release and in what amount. The annual Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) report is a bit like airing family secrets: It's usually dirty, and it gets lots of attention.

Self-reporting with no independent auditing of the figures companies submit

Reporting was initiated under the Emergency Planning and Right-To-Know Act of 1986, the result of public alarm following a 1984 toxic gas leak by Union Carbide, a U.S. company, in Bhopal, India, that killed thousands of people.

Roused by the Bhopal incident, Congress decided to U.S. residents have a right to know what kind of chemicals are being handled in their communities in order to avoid similar tragedies.

The law also made emergency planning easier and required operators of manufacturing facilities to report routine toxic chemical releases. Today, regulators have identified 651 chemicals and compounds that must be reported.

Some company officials accept the reporting requirements, while others argue against its usefulness. The utility of this annual exercise is also questioned by environmentalists, who point out that it is based on self-reporting with no independent auditing of the figures companies submit.

"It figures," said John Talpas, vice president of manufacturing for Great Lakes Chemical Corp. in El Dorado, when told the company led the Arkansas toxic releases list in 1994, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Talpas said a problem with a separation system in 1994 produced three times the amount of methanol the facility usually discharges. The added pollutants were injected into underground wells until the was fixed early last year.

"We were fully cognizant we were having problems," Talpas said, noting ongoing improvements at the bromine plant should reduce emissions below this year's levels. "We won't be satisfied until our name doesn't appear on the list."

However, Daniel C. Harris, vice president of U.S. Vanadium Corp. in Hot Springs, argues that the inventory is "more correctly a list of companies with the highest emissions."

"It's not a measure of anything being done illegally or incorrectly," he said. "It's not a definition of being a polluter."

U.S. Vanadium ranked number two in the state in toxic releases in 1994. The plant extracts metals such as vanadium and nickel from ore mined in Garland County, as well as ore shipped in from around the world. As part of its processing, the company discharges large amounts of ammonia into Lake Catherine.

But Paul Orum, head of the Working Group on Community Right-to-Know, an environmental advocacy group in Washington, disagrees with U.S. Vanadium officials.

"I don't think the distinction they're making is useful at all. They think that if it's legal, then it's not pollution. Of course, that's not true," Orum said.

The Chemical Manufacturers Association sued EPA to delete about 150 chemicals from the list

Denny Larson, an activist with Communities for a Better Environment, in San Francisco, also points out that the numbers are provided by the companies themselves, so there is no guarantee that they are accurate.

"Also the TRI data is full of holes. Lots of industries -- such as mining -- are not covered. Lots of chemicals, like dioxin, do not have to be reported, many of which are toxic at any concentration," he adds.

The 1994 Arkansas Toxic Release Inventory was compiled by the Arkansas Department of Labor and was submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its annual national report.

The EPA annually adds to and deletes from the list. Some 286 additional chemicals are newly reportable for 1996, while other chemicals are being eliminated or downgraded. Last August, the Chemical Manufacturers Association sued EPA to delete about 150 chemicals from the list, and the case is still pending.

In 1993, 418 Arkansas facilities reported that they released 17.36 million kilograms of toxic wastes into the air, water, land and underground injection wells. In 1994, 478 facilities reported emissions totalling 16.55 million kilograms.

Chemicals, paper products, metal industries, plastics and rubber and furniture facilities lead the state toxic release list in emissions, accounting for 9.1 million kilograms of the state total 16.55 million kilograms.

"Overall, releases for 1994 are below 1993 levels, indicating not only a greater level of compliance but a greater awareness of what is required of them," says Randy Thurman, director of the Arkansas Environmental Federation, an industry group that focuses on fitting environmental compliance into daily operations.

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Albion Monitor August 27, 1996 (

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