Environmentalists dispute EPA toxic emissions report EPA says emissions declined

group says U.S. list incomplete.

May 17, 1991|By Kate McKenna | Kate McKenna,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hailed its annual Toxics Release Inventory, environmentalists released their own report slamming the federal listing for keeping secret vast quantities of toxic emissions.

Created by a 1986 Community Right-to-Know Law, the annual Toxic Release Inventory informs the public about the discharges of about 330 chemicals released into the environment by large manufacturers.

This year's report, which covers chemical emissions in 1989, showed that reported releases and transfers of all listed chemicals decreased by 1.3 billion pounds between 1987 and 1989 -- an 18 percent drop.

In all, 22,650 industrial facilities released 5.7 billion pounds of toxics into the nation's environment, the EPA reported.

In Maryland, total toxic emissions dropped to 29.2 million pounds in 1989, down from 33.7 million in 1988 and 43.6 million in 1987.

There was, however, a slight increase in Maryland in toxics released into the air: 5.38 million pounds were released by fugitive or non-point air emission in 1989, compared to 5.2 million pounds in 1988 and 5.6 million pounds in 1987.

More noticeable changes were found in the EPA's listing of toxic discharges into water, which decreased from 10 million pounds in 1987 to 2.26 million pounds in 1989.

But this official EPA inventory covers only about 5 percent of all environmental releases, according to a report released yesterday by a coalition of environmental groups.

"This toxic chemical pollution is kept secret from the American public because of serious limitations in the federal Right to Know program," said the report, titled "The Right to Know More."

"Under current law, citizens only have the right to know about a tiny sliver of the toxic pollution pie," said Deborah A. Shelman of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who authored the report.

The environmentalists outlined emissions from more than 500 chemicals excluded by the Toxics Release Inventory that are regulated as toxics under other legislation, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resource and Recovery Act.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., original author of the Community Right-to-Know Act, blamed the EPA for dropping the ball on expanding the program, which currently covers only manufacturers who process more than 25,000 pounds of a certain chemical in a year.

"Today's release of the 1989 Toxics Right-to-Know data show that emissions are decreasing," said Lautenberg. "But by expanding the Right-to-Know law, we hope to make even more strides in the battle to prevent pollution."

At the environmentalists' news conference, Lautenberg announced plans to take the initiative and introduce legislation to expand the current inventory. "EPA's inaction denies industry, the public, the government and the nation as a whole the greater benefits possible under Right to Know," he said.

The EPA inventory currently does not cover major polluters such as federal facilities, mining, oil and gas drilling, laboratories, photo processing plants, industrial dry cleaners, chemical storage and transfer facilities, tank car and drum cleaners and electric utility plants.

But EPA Administrator William K. Reilly said the listing is "one of the most powerful tools we have to reduce toxic emissions."

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