The database is available from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and contains information reported annually by some industry groups as well as federal facilities. Each year, companies across a wide range of industries (including chemical, mining, paper, oil and gas industries) that produce more than 25,000 pounds or handle more than 10,000 pounds of a listed toxic chemical must report it to the TRI. The TRI threshold was initially set at 75,000 pounds annually. If the company treats, recycles, disposes, or releases more than 500 pounds of that chemical into the environment (as opposed to just handling it), then they must provide a detailed inventory of that chemical's inventory.
The inventory was first proposed in a 1985 New York Times op-ed piece written by David Sarokin and Warren Muir, researchers for an environmental group, INFORM. Congress established TRI under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA), and later expanded it in the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990. The law grew out of concern surrounding Union Carbide's releases of toxic gases in the 1984 Bhopal disaster and a smaller 1985 release in Institute, West Virginia.
Proposed changes in late 2005 would have weakened the reporting standards for the TRI program. Several state attorneys general wrote to EPA asking that the standard not be altered. The proposed revisions came under fire from Eliot Spitzer, then the Attorney General for New York, who said "Public disclosure has proven to be a strong incentive for polluters to reduce their use of toxic chemicals, this move by EPA appears to be yet another poorly considered notion to appease a few polluting constituents at the expense of a valuable program." EPA originally proposed to reduce the required reporting frequency from every year to every other year. This drew intense criticism, and the idea was dropped.
However, EPA went forward with another part of the plan that initially did not receive much attention. Companies were previously required to disclose any release over 2000 pounds (907 kg) on a more detailed "Form R" rather than the less detailed "Form A." With the new regulations, the minimum reporting requirements for Form R have been increased to 5000 pounds (2268 kg), thus reducing the amount of information available. Although this move was widely criticized by the public as well as many officials, EPA went ahead with the new rule anyway. EPA claimed that the comments submitted opposed to the Form R requirements were invalid because nearly all the people who had commented did so on both the change in reporting frequency as well as the minimum amounts required for Form R.
The data in the Toxic Release Inventory is available to the public, but initially the system was difficult to access. In recent years, EPA and several other organizations have made the task much easier.
There are several tools for mapping the TRI data to particular locations. These tools also allow the user to view some of the information in the database.
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