"Congress, We Have A Problem"

Earth Day 1996

April 1, 1996

"Congress, We Have A Problem": Toxic Secrets

Many members of the 104th Congress think the less you know about toxic substances released in your community, the better. S. 343, the so-called Regulatory Reform Act, contains provisions that would effectively eliminate the public's right to know about toxic pollution from factories. The provisions would:

  • Curtail reporting requirements for up to 90 percent of toxic chemical emissions that factories must report to the EPA under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI),
  • Eliminate reporting requirements for many toxins presently on the TRI list,
  • Bar the EPA from adding TRI reporting requirements for additional toxic chemicals.

The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), established in 1986, requires public disclosure of some releases of some toxic chemicals by some manufacturing facilities in the United States. Despite its limited scope, the TRI has achieved far more pollution reduction per dollar spent than any other environmental law.

In 1993, American industry reported dumping 2.7 billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the environment. Before the 104th Congress abolished it, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment concluded that ninety-five percent of all toxic chemical releases to the environment are unaccounted for by the TRI.

Nonetheless, in 1995, the new leadership in the Congress tried several times to dismantle the TRI, and so with it, the public's right to know about toxic chemical releases in communities across the country.

How it Hurts the Nation

Industry releases huge amounts of toxic chemicals into the environment nationwide. If Congress cripples TRI reporting requirements, Americans will know even less about toxic releases in their communities.

  • In 1993, U.S. industry reported over 2.7 billion pounds of toxic chemical releases to the environment.
  • Cancer causing chemicals accounted for 199 million pounds of all reported toxic chemical releases in the same year.
  • Four states--Lousiana, Texas, Tennessee and Ohio--accounted for 40 percent of the total toxics emissions reported by industry under TRI nationwide in 1993.
  • Fifteen states had reported emissions of over 5 million pounds of carcinogenic chemicals in 1993.