EPA has released its annual national analysis of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), and the analysis of the 2008 data, the most recent data set available, shows that 3.86 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released into the environment, a 6 percent decrease from 2007.

The TRI database contains information on chemical releases into the air, land and water, as well as waste management and pollution prevention activities.

This is the first time EPA has released its annual analysis in the same calendar year as the data were reported. In August, the agency released to the public the raw TRI data prior to EPA analysis for the first time. EPA has made the data available more quickly to increase transparency.

The analysis, which includes data on 650 chemicals from more than 21,000 facilities, found that total releases to air decreased 14 percent, while releases to surface water increased 3 percent. This increase is partially attributed to a coal ash spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority facility in Kingston, Tenn. Releases to land remain virtually unchanged from 2007, showing a 0.1 percent increase.

The report shows decreases in the releases of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals including lead, dioxin, and mercury. Total disposal or other releases of mercury decreased 11 percent. Dioxin releases or disposal decreased 77 percent, while lead releases decreased by 2 percent. Releases of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) increased 121 percent. Because PCBs are no longer used in U.S. manufacturing, these releases represent the removal of PCBs from service for disposal at regulated hazardous waste facilities.

The analysis also shows a 5 percent decline in the number of facilities reporting to TRI from the previous year, continuing a trend from the past few years. Some of this decline may be attributed to the economic downturn; however, EPA plans to investigate why some facilities reported in 2007 but not 2008.

Earlier this year, EPA also restored the more comprehensive TRI reporting requirements that were in effect before Dec. 21, 2006. As a result, the 2008 analysis provides communities with a more complete picture of local environmental conditions. EPA has begun a review of its TRI program to identify areas for improvement.

Information from industry is submitted annually to EPA and states. The data are reported by multiple industry sectors including manufacturing, metal mining, electric utilities, and commercial hazardous waste facilities. Facilities report by July 1 of each year.

TRI tracks the chemicals and industrial sectors specified by the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986 and its amendments. The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 also mandates that TRI reports include data on toxic chemicals treated on site, recycled, and burned for energy recovery. Together, these laws require facilities in certain industries to report annually on releases, disposal and other waste management activities related to these chemicals.