Although it isn't 100% complete, EPA has released an early version of Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data for calendar year 2008. This resource can provide some good initial clues for important stories that in years past had to be deferred at least two more months, and sometimes far longer, relative to when the releases into the environment occurred.
TRI is a foundational source of site-specific data about toxic substances that are released from industrial facilities into air, water, and land — and thus the beginning of many stories about the impact of toxics on people and the environment.
This is the first year that EPA has released the data before it has fully completed its own analysis. The agency says the just-released data is about 85% complete. Public updates, including late and corrected data, are expected in September and October. EPA says it will release its final data and report in December 2009. It remains to be seen whether the agency will provide a more in-depth analysis of the data, as it used to do quite a few years ago — or whether it will stick with the minimal trend and summary overview provided in recent years.
For more perspective on North American toxics, see Bob Weinhold's article in the September 2009 Environmental Health Perspectives. He notes that some public health officials don't even use TRI data, because of its many limitations and inaccuracies. He also documents that the number of facilities that must report toxic releases and transfers in Canada, Mexico, and the US is only 4% of the total industrial facilities in these countries; that only 3% of the chemicals in most widespread use in Canada and the US must be reported to an inventory in any of the three countries; and that less than 0.5% of all toxics that must be reported in one country or another around the world are included in any of the inventories in these three countries.
- "Toxics Report Improves, but Data Still Limited," Environmental Health Perspectives, September 2009, by Bob Weinhold.