25 Years of Toxic Right to Know
On the 25th anniversary of the law that created the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson was joined by New Jersey Senators Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez to celebrate improved transparency and environmental quality since the legislation passed in 1986. TRI was established through legislation authored by Senator Lautenberg and signed into law as part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). The measure requires owners of facilities to report annually on the amount of toxic chemicals that have been released into the air, water or land. These facilities are also required to report how they dispose of chemicals that are not released into the environment.
In 1984, a deadly cloud of methyl isocyanate killed thousands of people in Bhopal, India. Shortly thereafter, there was a serious chemical release at a sister plant in West Virginia. These incidents underscored demands by industrial workers and communities in several states for information on hazardous materials.
Public interest and environmental organizations around the country accelerated demands for information on toxic chemicals being released "beyond the fence line" -- outside of the facility. Against this background, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was enacted in 1986.
"Everyone has a right to know if danger is lurking in their own backyard, but for a long time, Americans were denied this basic right," said Senator Lautenberg. "The Toxic Release Inventory shows how government empowers people to improve their lives. This common sense law makes sure parents have the information they need to keep their children healthy and safe. I’m proud this movement began in New Jersey and has improved the lives of people all across the country."
"People have the right to know what toxic chemicals are being stored or disposed of in their communities. And we all have Senator Lautenberg to thank for creating that right 25 years ago," said Senator Menendez. "I was proud to work with him to fight off efforts to weaken this fundamental right and look forward to continuing to protect public health with him for years to come."
The EPA has identified numerous uses of TRI data by government, businesses and citizens. Its use enables the public to identify sources of toxic chemical releases, helps analyze potential toxic chemical hazards to human health and the environment and assesses environmental and public health issues that may affect communities. Earlier this year, the Aspen Institute called TRI one of the ten biggest ways EPA has improved America.
In 2006, the Bush Administration EPA finalized a rule that weakened the TRI program by eliminating the requirement to report specific quantities of releases for thousands of smaller facilities nationwide. However, in March 2009, President Obama signed into a law a provision written by Senator Lautenberg that overturned the rule and restored reporting requirements back to the pre-Bush Administration standards.
One of the best indicators that the TRI program has been a success is the steady and significant decline in releases since 1988 — the first full year of data on toxic releases. Since 1988, toxic releases from facilities required to report in New Jersey have declined by more than 94 percent in New Jersey.
For more information: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/1EB583B7AC9A4F018525792C00530A95 or http://www.epa.gov/tri/