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Asthma Awareness Month: Positive Trends in Toxic Air Emissions

Posted by Emilcott Associates

Jun 4, 2014 10:23:00 AM

asthma awarenessSince 1996, thousands of companies submit annual toxic chemical release data to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) required under Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). The information submitted by facilities is compiled in the Toxics Release Inventory. TRI helps support informed decision-making by industry, government, non-governmental organizations and the public. The EPA has also complied comparative reports to look for trends since EPCRA became law.

TRI tracks the management of certain toxic chemicals that may pose a threat to human health and the environment.  U.S. facilities in different industry sectors must report annually how much of each chemical is released to the environment and/or managed through recycling, energy recovery and treatment.  A "release" of a chemical means that it is emitted to the air or water, or placed in some type of land disposal. 

In November 2013, the EPA released the 2012 TRI National Analysis—which is the agency’s annual review of how chemicals in general were managed and where they were released.   According to the  EPA, in 2012, the quantity of toxic chemicals in total waste that is recycled, burned for energy recovery, treated, or disposed of or otherwise released the total was 23.52 billion pounds, of which 19.88 billion pounds were recycled, burned for energy recovery or treated. The remainder, 3.64 billion pounds, was disposed of or released.

The 2013 report does have several areas of good news.  The number of facilities reporting to TRI has dropped 15% from 2003 to 2012, and 2% from 2011 to 2012. Also hopeful is that the total disposal or releases of TRI chemicals has decreased 19% from 2003 to 2012, and 12% from 2011 to 2012, most of which were attributed to decreases in metal-mining industry land disposal.

The best news for the population that suffers from asthma is that the greatest long-term decreases were in air emissions. During the nine-year period from 2003-2012, air emissions decreased 54% (850 million pounds), something the report attributes in large part to the lower emissions from electric utilities that have both installed pollution controls at coal-fired plants or switched from coal to other fuels. In general, most trends are the result of many different factors such as production process changes, revamped management practices, raw material composition changes, and new control technologies.

 The 2012 reporting year was also the first to require emissions data on hydrogen sulfide, following the EPA’s lifting of an Administrative Stay issued in 1994 that deferred reporting while the agency completed further evaluations. In total, 484 facilities submitted hydrogen sulfide data with the majority being from three industries: petroleum (142); chemical (115); and paper (114). These three industries accounted for 89% of the 20.3 million pounds of hydrogen sulfide air emissions reported. On the up side, 17 of the facilities also reported implementing new pollution controls for the chemical including programs for monitoring potential leaks and spills and process modifications.

Mercury air emissions have also been falling for the past decade, dropping 42% from 2003 to 2012 with a 10% drop from 2011 to 2012, in large part the result of electric utility switching to fuels other than coal.

This data has importance in our ability to control what is emitted into the environment, especially the air.  While the majority of asthma is associated with allergic responses to common airborne allergens such as household dust mites (HDM), pollens, animal dander, and molds, people with asthma are also known to be especially susceptible to the effects of ozone (smog) exposure.  Because the prevalence of asthma in children is particularly high and because children are generally at risk of higher exposures due to time spent in exercise and outdoors, they may be disproportionately affected by ozone exposure. 

Emilcott has over 25 years of EHS experience and has assisted numerous clients with annual TRI reporting. 

Topics: Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, Asthma Awareness Month, Toxic Air Emissions, Toxics Release Inventory (TRI)

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