Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=37043
Story Retrieval Date: 12/13/2013 4:58:26 AM CST
Map by Ki Mae Heussner/Medill (Data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
In 1984, the release of toxic chemicals from a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide Corporation in Bhopal, India killed thousands of nearby residents. Less than one year later, another serious chemical release at a sister plant in West Virginia resulted in the hospitalization of several employees and area residents.
Public interest and environmental groups, demanding information on toxic chemicals being released in communities across the United States, achieved the passage of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act in 1986.
Under this federal law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state governments are required to annually collect data on releases and transfers of certain toxic chemicals from industrial facilities. This data is made available to the public through the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) program.
Each July, businesses report their chemical releases and transfers from the previous calendar year to the EPA. Through data access tools, such as the TRI Explorer (www.epa.gov/tri) and Envirofacts (www.epa.gov/enviro), the EPA publishes the data each September.
The EPA says the program has expanded significantly since its launch in 1987. A spokesperson for the agency said EPA-led changes approximately doubled the number of chemicals companies are required to report to roughly 650. A rule introduced this month increases reporting of dioxin compounds, which are known to be carcinogenic.
Recently, however, the EPA has come under fire from environmental and public interest groups for new reporting rules that demand fewer details from chemical-releasing facilities and relax reporting standards. In early 2006, the EPA proposed changing the TRI program to require alternate year reporting instead of annual reporting. This proposal was not implemented.
To see how many pounds of pollutants were released in 2005 in your neighborhood, find your zip code on the map. The related chart shows the number of facilities reporting chemical releases, the exact amount of chemicals released and median household income for each zip code.