TRI is designed to provide citizens with information about chemicals being used, processed, manufactured, or released from facilities in their communities. The basic premise of TRI is that citizens have a right to know about toxic chemicals that are handled or released in their community.
Meaning of “Release” under TRI
Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) and the regulations for TRI, release means “any spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying, discharging, injecting, escaping, leaching, dumping, or disposing into the environment (including the abandonment or discarding of barrels, containers, and other closed receptacles) of any toxic chemical” (40 CFR 372.3).
The term “release” under TRI includes permitted releases and discharges, management of waste in regulated disposal units as well as accidental spills and releases. Facilities are also required to report other waste management activities that occur on-site or involve transfer of waste off-site. Off-site transfers of TRI chemicals in waste include, in addition to transfers for disposal or other releases, transfers to treatment, publicly owned treatment works (POTWs), and recycling and energy recovery.
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EPCRA is meant to:
- Provide contingency planning for chemical emergencies, and
- Provide the public with previously unavailable information about toxic and hazardous chemicals in their communities.
A less stated but definite aim and effect of EPCRA is to pressure industry to reduce chemical releases.
Public Use of TRI Data
The public uses TRI data to:
- Learn about their local environment and chemicals
- Participate in environmental decision making
- Learn more about the environmental behavior of companies in communities to which they might consider moving.
Given that the intent of the TRI program is to get data into your community’s hands quickly and efficiently, public relations should be an essential part of any facility’s EPCRA program.
Industry Use of TRI Data
Industry can work with TRI data to:
- Improve internal auditing.
- Stimulate more efficient use of chemicals by identifying material losses.
- Provide a template for environmental reporting under standards such as ISO 14000.
- Provide an opportunity to communicate your facility’s progress toward reducing chemical use and chemical releases to your community.
For some industries, the creation of the TRI marked the first time that company managers and operators could look closely at the quantity of chemicals being released from their facilities. Initially, some companies expressed surprise at their own toxic chemical release amounts and set goals to improve their environmental performance. Some companies have reduced their toxic chemical releases and increased their efficiency at the same time, leading to an increased profit.
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Demonstrating environmental progress has become a selling point for industries, and many company websites include an environmental report. Since many companies have reduced chemical releases since the inception of EPCRA and the TRI program, posting TRI data showing releases trending down can be a viable environmental marketing tool. This way you can get out ahead of public disclosure organizations with your own message. If releases happen to increase in a given year, explaining the reasons yourself to your community can go a long way to cultivate positive community relationships. The publicity that has resulted from the availability of TRI data has prompted many facilities to pledge toxic chemical release reductions, and to work with communities to develop effective strategies for reducing environmental and human health risks.
The public’s increased awareness of environmental issues has made environmental performance an important factor in their investment decisions. Many investment companies have responded to this demand by providing socially responsible investment options.