Air emissions dropped, but total chemical releases grew in 2011

Posted: Jan 17, 2013

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Metal mining run-off

Toxic air emissions dropped by 8 percent from 2010 to 2011, though total emissions of hazardous chemicals rose for the second year in a row, U.S. EPA said today.

The agency pointed its finger at the metal mining sector to account for an overall 8 percent increase in chemical releases into the air, land and water.

The data come from the agency's 2011 Toxics Release Inventory, which requires nearly 21,000 facilities to report toxic chemical releases into the air, water and land every year. The goal of the program is to provide communities public information about nearby emissions.

In 2011, TRI data showed that 4.09 billion pounds of chemicals were disposed of in the environment.

The Toxics Release Inventory plays a "critical role in EPA's efforts to hold polluters accountable and identify and acknowledge those who take steps to prevent pollution," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement.

She added that since 2009, there has been more than a 100 million-pound decrease in air pollutants as a result of industry, regulatory and public interest group efforts.

Some of the biggest drops came from cuts in hydrochloric acid and mercury emissions, likely the result of coal-fired power plants installing new pollution controls or shifting to cleaner-burning fuels like natural gas, EPA said.

The release of toxics into water similarly dropped 3 percent, but releases to land increased 19 percent.

EPA said the increase is the result of more land disposal at metal mines, which often handle massive volumes of materials. EPA said that even a slight change in the chemical composition of what's being mined can lead to big changes in the amount of toxic chemicals the facility must dispose of.

Other sectors also saw modest increases, including the hazardous waste management industry.

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