Thursday, August 27, 2009

EPA updates toxic release inventory earlier than expected; data lack interpretation

The Society of Environmental Journalists has both praised and panned the Environmental Protection Agency for making available the raw Toxic Release Inventory data for 2008. SEJ writes in a post on its Web site that the release of the data was with "a promptness unprecedented in the history of the program that some took as a sign the agency was trying hard to reverse Bush-era secrecy."

The new release isn't without its problems, though. SEJ writes that EPA has sacrificed increased interpretation of the data for the speed of release. SEJ reports that a "certain amount of the data submitted by industry is inaccurate, incomplete and improperly formatted." SEJ warns journalists that the raw data will require increased "ground-truthing" on their part before use.

In January, Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette reported that the Environmental Integrity Project had used Toxic Release Inventory data to determine that West Virginia was home to dozens of coal-ash impoundments that take in more toxic waste from power plants than the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston Fossil Plant impoundment that broke in December 2008. Ward reported that the Environmental Integrity Project said the impoundments "pose the threat not only of catastrophic failure, but also of a "slow poisoning" of groundwater supplies with heavy metals and other toxics."

The EPA said in a news release that it has taken the "unprecedented step of releasing the raw data prior to completing its analysis," but "is analyzing the data and will publish the national analysis once its completed." The Toxic Release Inventory contains information on the release of more than 650 chemicals and chemical categories from industries across the country.

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