The TRI, the EPA’s annual report on 644 toxic chemicals and chemical compounds released by industry in the US (see related story), which covers 1999 emissions figures, the last year for which data is available, has revealed that the metal mining industry was responsible for more than half of all toxic releases by all US industries combined, which totalled 7.4 billion pounds, or 51%. Additionally, the mining industry produced the most arsenic releases in the US in 1999, with 585 million pounds of arsenic and arsenic compounds, some 97% of all arsenic-related releases.

Mining campaigners immediately pounced on the figures, together with the EPA’s identification of mining as having polluted 40% of all watersheds in the western states, as proof of a failing environmental record and of further reason for the Bush Administration to go ahead with a rollback of controls on the industry imposed under Clinton. The rules to be rescinded ensure that mining companies and not the public pay for environmental cleanups and acknowledge land managers’ authority to deny mine proposals where they would cause irreparable harm to environmental or cultural resources.

“When you look at the massive amounts of waste this industry produces and uses, cyanide, sulfuric acid, arsenic, and other heavy metals, it’s unfathomable that the Bush administration would want to suspend these common-sense environmental protections,” the NGO Mineral Policy Center said. “Mining companies do not have an all-powerful right to mine regardless of cost and consequence. Rolling back to the old rules would be a tragedy for taxpayers and the environment.”

The overall increase in toxic emissions across US industry was 1.4%, or some 323 million pounds of releases from 1998-9, which takes the total increase to 5%, or one billion pounds since reporting began in 1991.

Electric utilities were the second polluter overall, releasing more than one billion pounds of toxics, or 15% of total toxic emissions, representing an annual increase of 2.2%. One of the US’s largest utility holding companies, Southern Company, was particularly singled out for criticism after its toxic releases jumped by 16% between 1998-9 to a total of some 132 million pounds. “Southern Company claims to be doing its best to make its power plants cleaner,” commented Jim Haefele, Clean Air Advocate for the NGO US Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. “The numbers reveal that, in fact, the company’s pollution is on the rise. Public health suffers when a company as big as Southern Company does not live up to its commitments to reducing pollution.”

Toxic releases at waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities increased by 2.7%, or 7.5 million pounds between 1998-9, whilst for chemical wholesale distributors registered a massive rise of 28.3%, or some 435,000 pounds. The manufacturing industry, coal mining facilities and petroleum terminals and bulk storage facilities were three areas which registered decreases in toxic emissions between 1998-9, with cuts of 2.5%, 9.7% and 5.5% respectively.

Statewise, the largest volume of chemical releases for all industries , but principally due to mining, was reported by facilities in Nevada, followed by Utah, Arizona , Alaska, Texas and Ohio.

The EPA said that the results of the inventory showed “continued good news”. “I am pleased at the significant progress being made as trends continue downward,” commented EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. “Americans are reaping considerable benefits from the TRI programme. We’re seeing constant decreases of emissions to air, land and water, especially in the manufacturing industries where there has been a 46% decrease over the 12-year history of the programme.”

Meanwhile, the EPA has announced a new software product, TRIAL, which provides reporting facilities easier access to all TRI reporting regulations and guidance on their interpretation. It is available on the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory website.

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