What is the Toxics Release Inventory Program?
The Toxics Release Inventory Program tracks facilities that use, manufacture or process toxic chemicals above thresholds set by the Environmental Protection Agency and provides information important to understanding potential impacts to the environment and public health.
Concerned that communities lacked adequate information to address chemical emergencies, the U.S. Congress approved the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) in 1986 to reduce the risk of toxic chemicals released by industries in the United States. The law provides the public with information on toxic and hazardous chemical emissions released annually into the air, water, and soil, known as the Toxic Resources Inventory (TRI) program.
EPCRA does not regulate the amount of toxic chemicals released by industries. Instead, the law requires facilities with at least 10 full-time equivalent employees and that annually use more than 10,000 pounds or manufacture or process more than 25,000 pounds of a toxic chemical in specific sectors -- chemical manufacturing, coal and oil electricity generation, natural gas processing, some metal mining, hazardous waste management, and federal facilities -- to file reports with the EPA.
Industry provides the Environmental Protection Agency with data on an annual basis on approximately 800 toxic chemicals, including lead, mercury, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde, and as of 2020, PFAs, used at approximately 21,000 facilities in all 50 states and territories. EPA also gathers information on toxic chemicals transferred off-site for treatment, storage, or disposal.
In general, the toxic chemicals in the TRI are those that cause one or more of the following impacts:
cancer or other chronic human health effects,
adverse acute human health effects, and
significant adverse environmental effects.
The EPA collects data from industrial facilities about which toxic chemicals they use, how much of each is released into the environment, whether the chemicals were transferred offsite for treatment or disposal, and what the facilities are doing to prevent pollution. Most emissions tracked by the TRI result from routine operations, subject to regulatory requirements. TRI also includes data on accidental releases and remediation efforts. EPA assembles this information into the computerized and publicly accessible toxic release inventory. In early 2023, EPA expects to publish complete data for the 2021 TRI National Analysis, but preliminary 2021 data was released in the summer of 2022.
Used by the public, researchers, journalists, government agencies, financial analysts and others, the TRI provides information critical to understanding what’s happening across the country. Information collected under the TRI can be used to inform regulatory actions under other laws, as well as the basis for citizen suits.
Your Neighborhood and Toxic Releases#
Health and Safety #
Two out of every three U.S. residents live within three miles of industrial facilities producing hazardous chemicals, according to the EPA. But not all industrial facilities producing and using chemicals are dangerous. Additional information and investigations are needed to assess health impacts.
It’s important to recognize that the TRI primarily includes quantity data – facilities report the number of pounds of chemicals emitted to the environment and/or managed at the facility. Quantitative data alone are not enough to measure human health and environmental impacts or to indicate whether it is safe to reside near facilities emitting toxic chemicals. This is because chemicals vary in their toxicity. Many factors determine the risks to human health and the environment, including the level of exposure, how the chemical breaks down, where the chemical goes, the exposed population’s age, and how exposure occurs, such as through inhalation or ingestion.
There is enough evidence to suggest that people and particularly vulnerable populations like pregnant mothers and children, may want to take precautions if they live near environmental hazards. For example, a 2015 study, using 1,600 TRI-reporting industrial plants as its basis, found that the incidence of low birthweight increases by roughly 3 percent within one mile of an operating toxic plant, and comparable magnitudes between 0 and 0.5 miles and 0.5 and 1 miles.
Another study published in 2011 reported that children whose mothers lived near industries covered under the TRI during pregnancy were more likely to have brain cancer, especially if the mother lived within 1 mile of a facility with carcinogenic emissions.
Several studies use changes in the value of homes to measure the cost of environmental impacts, including proximity to facilities generating toxic chemical emissions. The same 2015 study finding that toxic air emissions affect air quality only within one mile of the plant also showed that the opening of an industrial facility emitting pollutants “leads to a roughly 11 percent decline in housing prices within 0.5 miles.” Housing prices are largely unaffected by a plant closing, implying that industrial facilities generating toxic chemicals continue to negatively affect housing prices after they cease operations.
A 2012 study found that homes in the same zip code as new facilities generating toxic chemical emissions reported in the TRI dropped 2-3 percent in value. The most noticeable effects were in regions with the largest increases in toxins reporting.
What You Can Do#
To find out more about facilities generating toxic chemicals reported in the TRI, reach out to others. Check with state and local government officials, as well as community organizations, and inquire what they know about a facility’s performance, including whether it complies with state and local laws as well as any increases and reductions in emissions over time. How are regulators using TRI data to develop environmental priorities and strengthen regulatory programs? Do they have concerns about the facility that warrant further investigation? Are there plans for community forums?
Get in touch with the industrial facility and ask what it is doing to address emissions, improve chemical management and safety, improve pollution prevention strategies, and protect public health and the environment. Does the facility have air monitors in their smokestacks; what do their monitors show? Has the operator reached out to other companies that may have developed best practices to reduce or eliminate pollution?
Check with the environment departments at local universities and colleges to see if researchers have examined the site or are willing to.
Contact your state’s local emergency planning commission responsible for providing information about the chemicals industrial facilities are using. What do they know?
Keep in mind that the TRI program excludes a number of industries, including agriculture, wastewater treatment, airports, hospitals, gas stations, municipal solid waste landfills, dry cleaners, and non-federal nuclear power plants. Additionally, not all types of pollution are covered in the TRI.
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- Brender JD, Maantay JA, Chakraborty J. Residential proximity to environmental hazards and adverse health outcomes. Am J Public Health. 2011 Dec;101 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S37-52. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300183. Epub 2011 Oct 25. PMID: 22028451; PMCID: PMC3222489.
- Currie J, Davis L, Greenstone M, Walker R. Environmental Health Risks and Housing Values: Evidence from 1,600 Toxic Plant Openings and Closings. Am Econ Rev. 2015 Feb;105(2):678-709. doi: 10.1257/aer.20121656. PMID: 27134284; PMCID: PMC4847734.
- Christopher S. Decker & Donald A. Nielsen & Roger P. Sindt, 2005. "Residential Property Values and Community Right‐to‐Know Laws: Has the Toxics Release Inventory Had an Impact?," Growth and Change, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 36(1), pages 113-133, February.
- Factors to Consider When Using Toxics Release Inventory Data, Environmental Protection Agency, 2022.
- New Toxic Release Inventory Data Show Chemicals, March 7, 2022
- Sanders, N. Toxic Assets: How the Housing Market Responds to Environmental Information Shocks. College of William and Mary, Department of Economics, Working Paper 128. Dec 2012.
- The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA): A Summary, Linda-Jo Schierow, Congressional Research Service, Oct. 28, 2010.
- Ward Jr, Ken, How Black Communities Become ‘Sacrifice Zones for Industrial Pollution, Mountain State Spotlight, Dec. 21, 2021.
- What is the Toxic Release Inventory Program? Environmental Protection Agency.
- What’s Available Through EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, U.S. EPA Toxics Release Inventory Program, 2019 International Emissions Inventory Conference.
- Wolf, Sidney, Fear and Loathing about the Public Right to Know: The Surprising Success of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know-Act, Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Spring 1996), pp 217-324.