TRI Reporting Due July 1: America's Most Reported Substances

Posted on 6/17/2023 by Nick Waldron and Roger Marks

Covered facilities must submit Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reporting to US EPA by July 1 each year. Also called "Form R," SARA 313, EPCRA 313, and other names, TRI reporting is required from facilities in certain industry sectors that manufactured, processed, or used listed chemical substances in certain quantities during the reporting year.

Covered facilities must report about how much of each listed chemical substance they manufactured, processed, or used during the year and provide details about how the chemical was recycled, released to the water, burned for energy, disposed of, etc. 

Read more about who submits the TRI

Most Reported TRI Chemicals (2021) 

2021 is the most recent year for which TRI reporting data is available to the public. EPA makes TRI reporting data public to assist communities in emergency response planning and inform the public about chemical safety risks in the local area. 

Nine chemicals make up about half of all production-related chemical waste in the US, as reported on the TRI from covered facilities in recent years: 

  • Dichloromethane (DCM) a.k.a. methylene chloride (MCL) 
  • Ethylene 
  • Lead
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Methanol
  • Toluene
  • Zinc 
  • n-Hexane. 
  • Cumene* 

*Cumene is a liquid hydrocarbon made from benzene. It appears on this list for one major reason: Since 2014, a single petrochemical manufacturing facility has reported recycling 3 billion pounds of cumene per year. 

Reported Releases to the Environment

Before we discuss the volumes of chemicals released via air emissions, discharges to water, land disposal—it’s important to note the positive trend toward recycling and other preferred waste management practices for hazardous chemicals. 

Since 2012, recycling of TRI chemical waste has increased about 70% (a 6-billion pound difference).

Public TRI data also indicates that of the 29.3 billion pounds of chemical waste managed by facilities in 2021, 89% was recycled or managed using other preferred methods.  

Released to Air (571 million lbs.)

air pollution TRI chemical data reported

Ammonia – 133.5 million lbs.
Ammonia is a colorless, odorless gas that is used in many products including explosives, plastics, and fertilizers. Exposure can cause respiratory problems, skin irritation, and burns. Manufacturers of nitrogen-based fertilizers accounted for 43% of the ammonia released to air during 2021.

Methanol – 96.3 million lbs.
Methanol (methyl alcohol) is a colorless, flammable liquid used in the manufacturing of paint, gasoline, and solvents. Paper manufacturing facilities released the most methanol to air in 2021.

Sulfuric acid – 49.9 million lbs.
This colorless, odorless, and highly corrosive liquid is used in the manufacture of batteries, fertilizers, and plastics. Electric utility facilities released more sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid into the air than any other industry sector in 2021.

n-Hexane – 37.5 million lbs.
n-Hexane is a colorless, flammable liquid that is used in a variety of industrial processes, including manufacturing paints, solvents, and pesticides. This chemical can be harmful to human health if inhaled — risks include neurological problems, liver damage, and even cancer.

Styrene – 30.9 million lbs.
Styrene is a colorless, flammable liquid that is used in the manufacture of rubber, paints, and plastics. Human health risks due to inhalation include respiratory problems, liver damage, and cancer.

Released to the Water (196 million lbs.) 

chemical facility near water TRI reporting under EPCRA

Nitrate compounds – 175.9 million lbs.
Nitrate compounds are a common by-product of on-site wastewater treatment, especially at meat processing facilities that deal with biological material from animals. nitrate compounds made up an impressive 90% of all TRI-listed chemical releases to water in 2021, most of which (42%) came from food-related facilities.

Methanol – 5.1 million lbs.
This colorless, flammable liquid is used in the manufacture of paint, gasoline, and solvents, and can cause blindness, respiratory problems, and central nervous system damage if ingested or inhaled.

Ammonia – 4.3 million lbs.
Release of ammonia to the environment contributes to acid rain. Ammonia is a colorless, odorless gas that is used in a variety of industrial processes including manufacturing fertilizers, plastics, and explosives. 

Manganese compounds – 4 million lbs.
These compounds can cause neurological problems, such as tremors, muscle weakness, and impaired coordination if inhaled or ingested.

Sodium nitrate – 1.8 million lbs.
This white, crystalline solid is used in the manufacture of explosives, fertilizers, and food additives. Inhalation and/or ingestion can cause irritation, digestive, and/or neurological symptoms.

Released to Land (2.1 billion lbs.)

a landfill or waste disposal site

The metals mining industry more or less owns the "releases to land" category. 

Zinc (458.3 million lbs.)
Zinc is used to make paint, rubber, dyes, and wood preservatives. Exposure can affect gastrointestinal, hematological, and respiratory systems in humans.

Lead (423.6 million lbs.)
Lead is a metal that is used in construction, mining, manufacturing, and many other industries. Exposure to lead can cause health problems “in almost every organ and system” in the human body (CDC).

Arsenic (323.8 million lbs.)
Arsenic is a naturally occurring, white-to-gray metalloid that can be harmful to the eyes, skin, liver, kidneys, lungs, and lymphatic system. Arsenic exposure can also cause cancer. Workers who may be more likely to be exposed to arsenic work in agricultural, glass manufacturing, construction, and mining settings.

Manganese (189.6 million lbs.)
Manganese is frequently used in the production of steel, and workers who are most at risk of exposure are welders. Continued exposure (inhalation) of manganese fumes or dusts can damage noted the lungs, liver, and kidneys, and a neurological condition called manganism.

Copper (154.8 million lbs.)
Possible symptoms of copper exposure by inhalation or ingestion include irritation of eyes, nose, and pharynx; nasal septum perforation; metallic taste; and dermatitis.

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Tags: environmental compliance, reporting, TRI

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