Chemicals, Hazardous Waste Management, Regulatory Developments

EPA Releases 2021 TRI Analysis

The EPA released its 2021 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis on March 16, 2023. The analysis data reveals that environmental releases of TRI chemicals from facilities covered by the program remained below pre-pandemic levels, and releases in 2021 are 10% lower than 2012 releases, even with an 8% increase from 2020 to 2021. Additionally, in 2021, facilities managed 89% of their TRI chemical waste through preferred practices such as recycling, energy recovery, and treatment while reporting they released 11% of their TRI chemical waste into the environment.

The 2021 TRI National Analysis summarizes TRI chemical waste management activities, including releases, that occurred during calendar year 2021. More than 21,000 facilities submitted TRI reports on 531 chemicals they released into the environment or otherwise managed as waste. The EPA, states, and tribes receive TRI data from facilities in sectors such as manufacturing, mining, electric utilities, and commercial hazardous waste management.

“It’s absolutely essential that people have access to information about the chemicals being used in their communities,” said Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff in an EPA news release. “By making this information publicly available, EPA is advancing its commitment to reduce pollution and give communities tools to help them make better informed decisions to protect people and the planet.”

2021 notable trend

Data from the National Analysis shows a 24% increase in the number of new pollution reduction activities facilities initiated from 2020 to 2021, which is a strong rebound after the decrease seen from 2019 to 2020.Facilities reported inventive strategies such as replacing TRI chemicals with less hazardous alternatives or reducing the amount of scrap they produce.

For inspiration, industry professionals can look at TRI reporting on pollution prevention to learn about best practices implemented at facilities.

PFAS reporting

The TRI National Analysis includes reporting on perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) following the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. For reporting year 2021, 176 PFAS were reportable, and facilities reported managing 1.3 million pounds (lb) of these chemicals as waste. This is an increase from the 800,000 lb in 2020 and is largely due to reporting on perfluorooctyl iodide, which the EPA began requiring facilities to report on in 2021. Most of the facilities that manage PFAS operate in the chemical manufacturing and hazardous waste management sectors. The hazardous waste management sector accounted for roughly 80% of the 108,334 lb of PFAS released into the environment, primarily to regulated landfills.

The EPA recently proposed a rule that would improve TRI reporting of PFAS by eliminating an exemption that allows facilities to avoid reporting information on PFAS when those chemicals are used in small, or de minimis, concentrations.  Because PFAS are used at low concentrations in many products, this rule would ensure covered industry sectors and federal facilities that make or use TRI-listed PFAS will no longer be able to rely on the de minimis exemption to avoid disclosing their PFAS releases and other waste management quantities for these chemicals.

Ethylene oxide reporting

The data also reveals a 45% decrease in ethylene oxide releases from 2012 to 2021 driven by decreased air emissions. Although there was a 15% increase in releases compared with 2020, quantities of ethylene oxide released in 2021 are lower than pre-pandemic quantities from 2019. The EPA also expanded reporting requirements for ethylene oxide and other chemicals to include additional facilities. Reporting from these facilities will appear for the first time in next year’s National Analysis.

New tools

The 2021 analysis features updated visualizations and analytical tools, including the option to view data by region and watershed. The “Where You Live” mapping tool and the Chemical Profiles section include updated demographic information.  Facility locations can also be viewed with overlayed demographic data to identify potential exposure to TRI chemical releases in disadvantaged communities.  Community groups, policymakers, and other stakeholders can use this data, along with other environmental data, to better understand which communities may experience a disproportionate pollution burden and take action at the local level.

In addition, this year, the TRI National Analysis Sector Profiles highlight the plastic products manufacturing sector alongside the standard profiles for electric utilities, chemical manufacturing, and metal mining. This allows readers to learn about releases and waste management of TRI chemicals, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, from facilities in these sectors.

A public webinar will be held on March 28, 2023. 

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