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The Toxics Release Inventory is a rich source of data for a broad-based audience that includes manufacturers, environmental consulting firms, trade associations, labor groups, health professionals, state and local environmental agencies, Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs), and federal agencies. An important and growing user group is concerned citizens who, on their own or through organized groups, use TRI to raise and answer questions about chemical releases in their communities.
Whether the TRI is used to influence local government action, emergency planning, the education of citizens, or to spur industry-citizen cooperation, it is clear that it plays a vital role in enhancing nationwide efforts to improve our nation's precious environment.
The Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA) was written with individual citizens in mind, on the principle that the more citizens know the more effective they can be in improving health and safety by avoiding chemical hazards in their communities. TRI enables citizens to become more aware of toxic chemicals in their own neighborhoods. It encourages dialogue between individuals and local companies which can result in a change in current practices, and improve the local environment. For example, a group of Minnesota residents used TRI data to pressure a local firm to reduce the use of a carcinogen by 90 percent! The state later passed tougher regulations limiting the amounts of chemical releases allowable under state permits. One neighborhood near Houston, Texas worked directly with a local plant to develop an emissions reduction plan, using recent TRI data as the basis for discussions. Citizens often use the TRI data in combination with other information sources to determine health-related risks in their communities.
Manufacturers can use the TRI data as a basis for reducing large stocks of toxic chemicals located in dense population areas or to lower levels of chemical releases. TRI data is also used to cut costs and improve operations. "Wastes" represent an expense --chemical wastes leftover after manufacturing must be managed, which may include treatment or disposal or transportation away from the facility. Companies are using TRI to increase awareness of environmental business opportunities and, as a result, reduce the use of toxic chemicals. TRI is also used to market a chemical or process that is cleaner, safer, or more cost-effective for the reporting facilities. Law firms, real estate companies, and banks use TRI to identify potential liability issues associated with a particular parcel of land. Most important of all, the publicity that has resulted from the availability of TRI data has caused many companies to voluntarily pledge toxic chemical release reductions.
Academic researchers rely on TRI data to conduct important studies of the environment. Several universities use TRI reports to study how chemicals are used and develop alternative technologies for the prevention of toxic releases. The Environmental Studies Program at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania requires its undergraduates to prepare toxic waste audits on communities o facilities, using TRI as a resource. According to the Professor of Environmental Studies, "Our student work in multi-disciplinary research teams to answer real-world problems, and acquire both the information retrieval and social skills necessary to network with industry, citizens, and regulatory personnel."
Public interest groups make effective use of the TRI data in pressuring facilities to change, to educate citizens, and to prepare revealing company profiles. Most often, they use TRI to bring public pressure to bear on facilities and public officials. For example, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition use TRI to identify companies emitting potentially harmful chemicals, and urged them to cut releases One official from a well-known company was quoted as saying that the "right to know" was "significant factor" in the decision to significantly reduce their chemical releases. National public interest groups often publish reports based on the TRI data. For example, a study highlighting the nation's toxic polluters and a report naming companies releasing known ozone-depleting chemicals were developed as a result of the availability of the TRI data. The TRI data is also vital for presenting a convincing case to influence legislators. The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group figured prominently in the passage of the nation's first state toxics-use reduction law, and many other states have followed suit.
Concern for worker safety was a key factor in the original passage of the national right-to-know legislation. The right to know about chemical hazards in the workplace has been a consistent goal of organized labor since the early 1970s. The Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union teamed up with a Minnesota community and used the TRI data to pressure their company to reduce the use of methylene chloride, a known health hazard to the workers, and search for safe alternatives. Union members and activists pressured the state for tougher regulations that would force the company to cut emissions by 93%. One worker remarked, "Right-to-Know provided the catalyst. Once the community got involved, there was tremendous pressure on the business to reduce the risks!" Publication of toxic release data often generates pressure on companies to improve environmental performance. Unions can capitalize on public awareness to help protect their members.
TRI data is useful to hospitals, schools, and state and local governments for emergency planning and response at the state and local level. Many emergency management agencies, fire departments, and emergency medical services use TRI to identify chemicals in use and map facility layouts for more effective, quicker response to emergencies. The TRI data is also used to identify the need for and the introduction and passage of state and local legislation. In 1989, Louisiana used the TRI data as the basis for passing a new Air Toxics law requiring a 50 percent reduction of emissions by 1994. TRI is also used in combination with other data to determine whether companies are complying with environmental legislation already in effect. For example, TRI data on off-site transfers can be used to identify chemicals or wastes being transported from a facility, to verify that the receiving landfill has the proper permits for incoming amount and type of waste.
TRI is used by EPA as a baseline for measuring improvements in companies across the nation. Company performance records are tracked over time to monitor efforts, such as the 33/50 program, and to monitor emission reductions called for under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. TRI is used throughout the EPA to measure company compliance with other laws and to target areas where enforcement of other regulations is needed, to gauge the need for additional regulatory efforts to clean up water, air, and solid waste problems, and to develop strategies for assessing pollution prevention programs. (Link to information on other federal agencies and TRI.)
TRI data can be used to build an information base on hazardous chemicals used, manufactured, or transported in a state or community. Health professionals can use this information to better prepare personnel for emergencies. TRI can help diagnose, treat, or study health effects resulting from chemical exposure in the community or workplace.
TRI is important to the education of the community about facilities and potential hazards in the local area. Many large newspapers, such as USA Today, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal have run stories on the effectiveness of the right-to-know statute, as have scores of local newspapers, trade and labor union publications and periodicals.
TRI enhances the ability of the world to work as one in monitoring the earth's environment. Several nations use the data to assist in their efforts to become more environmentally conscious. Environment Canada uses the TRI data to determine which industries and chemicals need greater regulation in their country and is preparing a National Pollutant Inventory modelled on TRI. The Russian Federation Embassy used TRI data to evaluate companies interested in opening facilities in their country. Other users of TRI around the world include Great Britain, continental Europe, India, and Japan. This is one of the fastest growing segments of the TRI-user community.