Six-hundred-and-fifty different toxic chemicals. Twenty-four-thousand industrial plants emitting them nationwide. That includes 24 on Neville Island alone, responsible for a quarter of Allegheny County's air pollution, according to local environmental groups. All of this is detailed in reports filed with the Environmental Protection Agency and made public every year for the past 20 years.
Either the pollution itself, or the effort of cataloging it, is enough to make you sick, depending on whether you spend more time inside a plant or living as its neighbor. After two decades of the Toxics Release Inventory, the EPA is considering de-clawing the legislation that has made it possible, taking some of the pollution-reporting onus off of polluters. Environmentalists aren't pleased.
"There's certainly a great deal more information we need to know" about local pollution, says Suzanne Seppi, a staff member for the Pittsburgh chapter of Group Against Smog and Pollution. "We shouldn't be going backwards." Seppi is preparing critical comments on the proposed rollback for EPA on behalf of GASP.
The proposed change would cut down on how often companies have to report, from yearly to every other year, and would allow less specificity in reporting. Now, companies must report annual emissions of 500 pounds or more of certain pollutants. Under the proposed changes, they would only be on the hook to report annual emissions of more than 5,000 pounds.
Suzie Brindle, program organizer for Pittsburgh's office of Clean Water Action, says her group uses the TRI data often, helping residents of Neville Island track the chemicals they breathe every day, for instance. As TRI currently stands, she says, the time from pollution to reporting is already too long.
"Just now, we're getting the data from 2003," she says. "EPA wants to roll it back. That would make the lag time a bigger gap."
EPA spokesperson Suzanne Ackerman says that some details of polluter profiles will be lost, but that the reduced information will still be sufficient.
"There have been a lot of misconceptions," Ackerman says. "People keep saying it will let polluters out of reporting. That's not correct."
She says that the proposed change would not affect giant industrial polluters or those emitting the most deadly toxins like mercury, lead and dioxins. It will only affect smaller facilities eligible to use the simpler reporting form, which have complained about the obligation of reporting.
GASP's Seppi believes forcing companies to report on themselves more often can have a self-policing effect.
"There's that embarrassment factor," she says. "It's not a regulation, but it's there."
The public comment period on the Toxics Release Inventory Burden Reduction Proposed Rule ends Jan. 13. To comment, e-mail oei.docket.@epa.gov with "Docket ID No. TRI-2005-0073" in the subject line.