ASSESSING THE IMPACT OF LOWER NATIONAL MERCURY AND LEAD REPORTING THRESHOLDS
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After a pair of toxic releases in Bhopal, India and Institute, West Virginia in the 1980s, environmental groups and members of the public demanded more information on toxic chemical releases into the community. As a result, United States facilities that manufacture, use, or process above-threshold amounts of one of 650 listed toxic chemicals must publicly report their releases and transfers via the annual Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). In 2000 and 2001, the EPA lowered the reporting thresholds for mercury and lead, respectively. This project assesses how the increased TRI reporting for mercury and lead changes our understanding of the geographic distribution and industry composition of mercury and lead-releasing facilities, as well as the demographic characteristics of the areas surrounding the facilities. Through a geospatial analysis of mercury and lead TRI reporting before and after the threshold changes, this project evaluates the effectiveness of the TRI program at achieving its founding purpose: to provide information to empower communities. The findings suggest evidence of an overall geographic and industry diversification across the threshold changes, but point to specific states and industry types that tend to account for larger than average portions of releases. Reporting was found to be concentrated in working poor block groups, with no change in income distribution across the threshold changes. Further geospatial and statistical analysis of income and other demographic variables is recommended in order to confirm reporting and release trends. Given the limitations to interpretation of TRI data, more outreach and education would be prudent in order to maximize communities’ utility of the increased mercury and lead data available after the threshold changes.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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