The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on January 21, 2016, released the latest data for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a key tool for journalists looking for stories about where and when chemicals touch people.
The database includes self-reported information about dangerous chemicals handled and released at industrial facilities during 2014, the latest year for which data is available. Companies reported the 2014 totals in mid-2015.
The TRI is one of the few databases required to be collected by law by EPA. It covers a list of some 689 toxic chemicals. Companies running facilities like chemical plants as well as utilities running facilities like sewage plants must estimate the amounts of listed chemicals which they store, handle, transfer, or release to air, water, and land.
The TRI does not measure human exposure to toxic chemicals, but is often taken as a surrogate for exposure. The TRI is a foundation of many of EPA's other data efforts — such as mapping of people's potential exposure to toxics for environmental justice purposes. Because the data collection began in 1987, it offers a timeline useful for seeing historical trends.
Today, TRI is online, searchable, and mapped. You can type in your zip code and see toxics-handling facilities near you and your audience. Those who enjoy data journalism can download the entire data set and conduct their own specialized inquiries.