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Toxic release down again in W.Va., EPA says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Toxic pollution of West Virginia's air and water decreased again in 2011, according to the latest figures released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Statewide air emissions declined by 17 percent, to 20.2 million pounds and water discharges by 13 percent to 1.8 million pounds, according to data reported by companies to the EPA Toxics Release Inventory.

Overall, the total toxic waste released or disposed of onsite at industry sites dropped by 14 percent, to just less than 31 million pounds, the EPA said.

Total toxic waste managed from production increased by just less than 1 percent, to 425.3 million pounds, EPA said in its annual TRI report.

Nationally, the industry reported a decline in total air emissions of about 8 percent, but, conversely, an increase in total releases and disposal of toxic materials of 8 percent between 2010 and 2011, EPA said.

Over the longer term, EPA reported significant cuts in toxic emissions to both the nation's air and water.

"Since 1998, we have recorded a steady decline in the amount of TRI chemicals released into the air, and since 2009, we have seen more than a 100-million-pound decrease in TRI air pollutants entering our communities," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "This remarkable success is due in part to the TRI program and concerted efforts by industry, regulators and public interest groups to clean up the air we all depend upon."

EPA credited huge cuts in toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants as playing a significant role in the nationwide pollution reductions, especially drops in emissions of hazardous air pollutions like hydrochloric acid and mercury.

"The greatest decrease from 2003 to 2011 was observed in the electric utilities sector with a decrease of 457 million pounds [43 percent] from 2003, including an 87-million-pound decrease from 2010 to 2011," EPA said in a report on the data. "Among other reasons, these reductions may be due to a switch from coal to other fuels and improved pollution controls."

Strictly speaking, the TRI data does not analyze health or environmental effects of any of the releases documented, but the publication of the figures has been widely credited with large pollution reductions over the past two decades.

The EPA started the pollution inventory and public reporting of toxic emissions in 1987. The figures always lag a bit behind, because companies report annual releases for one year the following July.

When the EPA kicked off the program, it was responding to a congressional mandate following the 1984 chemical disaster at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, and a smaller leak the following year at Carbide's plant in Institute.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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