While toxic releases from industrial facilities are declining nationwide, they're on the rise in the Hometown area.
That's according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's latest Toxic Release Inventory
, which compiles information about chemical releases reported by industrial facilities. Congress created TRI 20 years ago this month, when it passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act in response to the 1984 disaster in Bhopal, India,
where a methyl isocyanate
leak at a Union Carbide chemical plant killed, blinded or maimed thousands of people. Under EPCRA, U.S. industrial facilities must report environmental releases of more than 600 toxic substances.
The latest TRI holds some good news for Americans generally, as the overall amount of toxic chemicals released to the environment in 2004 fell 4 percent from 2003 levels, to about 4.24 billion pounds, the EPA reports. There were especially dramatic declines for some particularly dangerous pollutants, with mercury
releases falling by 16 percent, dioxin
by 58 percent, and polychlorinated biphenyls
by 92 percent. There's also some good news for Pennsylvania, where total air emissions (fugitive
) fell about 1.8 million pounds from 2003, to about 88 million pounds.
"Today's report demonstrates that economic growth and effective environmental protection can go hand-in-hand," said Linda Travers, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Environmental Information.
But the economy and environment are not holding hands in Hometown. Total air emissions for the 18252 ZIP code including Hometown village, Tamaqua borough and the surrounding area increased 30 percent in one year -- from 20,174 pounds in 2003 to 26,279 pounds in 2004. For Schuylkill County overall, air emissions increased 5 percent, from 463,645 pounds in 2003 to 486,555 pounds in 2004. Meanwhile, next door in Carbon County, air emissions climbed 8 percent, from 107,186 pounds in 2003 to 115,895 pounds in 2004.
In the Hometown area, air emissions from the Air Products
specialty gas plant on Marian Avenue declined by 9 percent from 2003 to 2004, from 14,831 to 13,499 pounds. The facility's releases of dichloromethane
-- a known carcinogen -- dropped from 4,655 pounds in 2003 to 3,298 the following year. During the same period, however, Air Products' releases of hydrogen fluoride or fluorine
-- one of the most hazardous chemicals
to the health of humans and ecosystems -- increased by 30 pounds, to 5,382.
Air releases increased from the Silberline
aluminum-pigment manufacturing facility, which is located in Hometown less than a quarter mile from Rush Elementary School. In 2004, Silberline reported emitting 11,776 pounds of 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene
, a suspected neurological and respiratory toxicant that also targets the blood. That's 7,453 pounds more than the facility released in 2003 -- a 172 percent increase. Meanwhile, Silberline's releases of aluminum
-- a chemical linked to nervous-system impairment and dementia -- held steady at 500 pounds.
Air emissions from Northeastern Power's
waste-coal-burning co-generation plant -- located just north of Hometown near the local drinking-water reservoir but outside the 18252 ZIP code -- increased from 97,986 pounds in 2003 to 99,211 pounds in 2004. Over that same period, the facility's releases of hydrochloric acid
increased by 797 pounds to 82,000 pounds; lead
by 8 pounds to 100 pounds; and chromium
from none to 255 pounds. Chromium, lead and hydrochloric acid are considered among the most hazardous compounds to human health and ecosystems.
Two Schuylkill co-gens reported decreases in air emissions. The St. Nicholas
plant near Shenandoah released 1,309 pounds of toxins to the air in 2004, down from 6,119 pounds in 2003. Much of that drop was due to a decrease in zinc emissions
from 4,795 pounds in 2003 to 10 pounds in 2004. The Wheelabrator
plant near Frackville reported a less dramatic decrease in air pollution, from 55,278 pounds released in 2003 to 55,111 in 2004, due in large part to a decline in hydrochloric acid releases.
But other Schuylkill County waste-coal-burning co-gens reported increased emissions. The WPS Westwood
plant near Tremont upped releases of hydrochloric acid by 9,600 pounds from 2003 to 2004. And Gilberton Power Co.
near Frackville increased emissions of hydrochloric acid from 153,410 pounds in 2003 to 156,011 in 2004, a jump of 2,618 pounds. (The facility, which provides steam for the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution
, is also known as the John B. Rich Memorial Power Station after its owner, the chairman of Reading Anthracite
and driving force behind plans to build a heavily polluting waste coal-to-oil plant
in Schuylkill County.)EPA Wants to Scale Back TRI
Meanwhile, the federal government is working to restrict the toxic release data available to residents of polluted communities like Hometown.
Last September, the EPA announced a plan
to roll back TRI reporting requirements in order to reduce the paperwork burden for industry. The plan would increase the amount of pollution that triggers full TRI reporting from 500 to 5,000 pounds a year, and allow companies that release between 500 and 5,000 pounds of a chemical to use a short reporting form that requires only a statement that a certain amount of material was handled but didn't meet the criteria for full reporting. The EPA also wants to eliminate the annual reporting requirement for companies and instead have them report releases every other year.
by the Environmental Working Group found that EPA's proposal would have a "significant adverse effect on the availability of pollution information for the most hazardous group of chemicals, the persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals."
The comment period on the proposal closed in January of this year. Among the parties submitting concerns about the plan were several members of the U.S. Senate
and the U.S. House of Representatives
. Unfortunately, no lawmakers who represent the Hometown area signed onto those letters.
To access my TRI data summaries for air emissions from some of the biggest industrial polluters in the Hometown area from 1988 to 2004, click on the links below for the PDF documents. Complete TRI data is available at EPA's TRI Explorer Web site
* Air Products
* Alcoa Extrusions
* Copperhead Chemical
* GHM Inc.
* Gilberton Power Co.
* J.E. Morgan Knitting Mills
* Northeastern Power Co.
* St. Nicholas Cogeneration
* Silberline Manufacturing
* Tredegar Film Products
* Wheelabrator Energy
* WPS Westwood Generation