Toxic Release Inventory from EPA: How I Use It

The Toxic Release Inventory is an online database run by the EPA. By entering your zip code you can find which chemicals have been disposed of or released in your area. This is a process that has been made fairly simple by the EPA. You don't have to be a substance volume tracking expert to make sure you're not being exposed to toxic chemicals in your area.

I searched a town near where I went to college in Maine, as there is a paper mill nearby and I wondered about chemicals and waste. It turns out there were over 253,000 recorded pounds of chemicals disposed of in 2008, over half of which was Methanol. Methanol is commonly called wood alcohol, as it was once produced mainly as a byproduct of the destructive distillation of wood. Methanol is also highly toxic to humans.  That type of "extra" information about chemicals listed in the TRI isn't available on the TRI site itself, but is made available here for people who want to do their research.

I also checked the TRI for releases of chemicals in high tourist areas. Places like Orlando, FL and Anaheim, CA showed no release of toxic chemicals in the surrounding areas.  The closest city located to one of these areas was Miami, FL which showed a release of 6 pounds of Lead released in 2008. Lead is a poisonous metal that can cause brain disorders, as most people either know or suspect.

Keep in mind the database is always updated.  A month ago, the Brooklyn / NYC area showed no danger of toxic waste sites; but as of today, September 27, 2010, a waste site in Brooklyn has been named to the EPA list of sites to be reviewed for hazardous chemicals. 

Are chemicals released near your zip code green or... not?
I recommend taking a look.  Go here.  Plug in your zip code and see what you discover about your own back yard.

For more info and background, see:
What is the Toxic Release Inventory Program?

EPA makes data available quickly:

Guest blogger Adam Baer authors and manages SDS data and substance-level information on a daily basis.  He graduated from the University of Maine with a B.A. in Journalism.