Celebrating 30 years of Citizens’ Right-to-Know

OCT 17, 2016

Celebrating 30 years of Citizens’ Right-to-Know

30 years ago today, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) was established through a law co-authored by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. Five years ago, the Senator recollected, “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.”

Senator Lautenberg was talking about the right of citizens to have access to information about which toxic chemicals industrial facilities are using and how much of each is released into the environment. EPA makes this information easily available to the public online. Most of the emissions tracked by TRI result from routine production operations, which are subject to regulatory requirements, but TRI also includes data on accidental releases and one-time remediation efforts.

Recently the program returned to its roots in EPA’s chemical safety office, and I am once again impressed by the power of disclosing this information to the public and the extent to which citizens, industry, researchers, and others have relied on it as a tool for informed decision making.

Administrator McCarthy echoed Senator Lautenberg’s statement recently when she said, “people deserve to know what toxic chemicals are being used and released in their backyards, and what companies are doing to prevent pollution. By making that information easily accessible through online tools, maps, and reports, TRI is helping protect our health and environment.”

But don’t take it from us at EPA. Here’s what others have said about the impact of the TRI:

“After 30 years, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act has exceeded expectations in driving down the use and release of toxic chemicals. This law created the TRI Program and has given concerned citizens, researchers, and others access to information that should be a basic right to know. While it was a new approach in 1986, today more than fifty countries have established their own registries, using the TRI as a model.  These registries, in the U.S. and abroad, have allowed companies to learn best practices from each other and, simply by shining a spotlight on releases of toxic chemicals, have led to dramatic reductions.” – U.S. Senator Tom Udall

“The TRI Program provides a critical tool for informing and empowering communities to hold polluters accountable. I applaud EPA’s efforts to adapt TRI to technological advances and make the TRI data as accessible as possible.” – U.S. Representative Frank Pallone

“Having to report and having to keep a closer eye on the chemicals and the processes that we use offers an insight so that we can…look at the bigger picture and plan ahead to make reductions.” – Bette Danielson, Safety and Environmental Affairs Manager at Nordic Ware

“If you’re working for the benefit of the neighborhood, you need to identify, understand and measure the problem. Then, you can do things to improve the situation. TRI provides us a tool — that information that we need desperately in order to move anything forward.” – Wendy Menken, board president of a neighborhood association in Minnesota

The Aspen Institute called TRI one of the ten biggest ways EPA has improved America.

There’s plenty of data to support these great statements. One of the best indicators of the TRI Program’s success is the steady and significant decline in releases since 1987 – the first full year of data on toxic releases. A great example is the decreasing trend in air releases.

Air Emissions Grahic

 

Find out more about the power of TRI data and the 30th Anniversary.

Happy 30th anniversary to one of EPA’s finest programs – one that has made such a positive difference in fulfilling our Agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment!

Editor’s Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone’s rights or obligations.

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