Use It or Lose It: EPA Releases Toxics Data Feb. 24

March 12, 2008

EPA made public the latest year's data from the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) February 21, 2008, catching a few journalists by surprise, as usual.

The data covers the 2006 reporting year, the latest available.

Want to know what toxic substances are being emitted into your community's air, water, and land? TRI is the place to start. EPA has steadily diminished public access to this information over the past 8 years, succeeding partly because journalists make comparatively little use of it.

A few journalists in the know are still building blockbuster, prizewinning stories on the foundation of TRI.

EPA is actually a gold mine of under-used data that reporters can build stories on. Here are some other favorites of the WatchDog. Try exploring them with an eye to what local stories you might develop.

  • Envirofacts Warehouse: One-stop shopping (almost) for a wide collection of EPA pollution and permit databases for air, land, and water. A user-friendly query interface makes it fairly easy to punch in your ZIP code or county and get relevant results. Also gives results in map form.
  • ECHO Database: The Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database is a specialized tool for tracking environmental evil-doers (and do-gooders, too). It offers detailed history on virtually every company or facility holding an EPA permit - including inspections, compliance record, and any actions resulting from non-compliance.
  • Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators: You have to order a CD to get this TRI-based model that yields very localized assessments of toxic risk to particular communities. Worth the trouble.
  • listing of other EPA databases and software easily accessible to reporters and public. Example: "Surf Your Watershed."
  • Scorecard: A bit dated from its hey-day, but still relevant. A very user-friendly and localized tool for looking at a variety of EPA data on pollution and the risks it presents to communities.