Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., May 23, 24 or 25
This three-day weekend is the unofficial launch of summer and the holiday we use to remember those who died while serving in the U.S. military.
Seeing the season coming and recalling the people having gone mixes glee and grief, which are increasingly the emotions one feels about the environment.
Given Memorial Day’s roots as Decoration Day, when cemeteries were graced with floral arrangements as well as flags – and without detracting from fallen servicemen and women – one wonders where we can place flowers on the grave of our environment.
Looking at the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), folks can be glad that total toxic air releases in 2011 declined 8% from 2010 but concerned that the total releases of toxic chemicals increased 8% (for the second year in a row).
Glee and grief.
The TRI data show that 4.09 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were disposed of or released into air, water or land, up from about 3.7 billion pounds in 2010. The difference is mainly due to increases in land disposal at metal mines, which typically involve large facilities handling large volumes of material, the EPA said.
Looking at 12 area counties – Fulton, Henderson, Henry, Knox, Livingston, Mason, McDonough, Mercer, Peoria, Tazewell, Warren and Woodford – only Henderson had no reports of toxins released into the air, soil or water. Of the rest, barium compounds were the most prominent toxic material released in the region, byproducts of power company operations in Fulton, Mason, Peoria and Tazewell.
Meanwhile, toxic releases into surface waters in the Great Lakes Basin increased by 12% from 2010 to 2011. Nationwide, toxic surface water discharges declined 3%. Grief and glee.
“This is a significant increase in toxic releases to our waters – and an indication that the Great Lakes region is lagging behind other parts of the country,” said Susan Hedman, administrator for EPA Region 5 in Chicago. “EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory is a valuable tool to help target areas for improvement and we will use this new information to work with municipalities, agricultural producers and manufacturers to improve water quality.”
Nitrates and pesticides from municipal wastewater treatment plants and agriculture account for most of the toxic surface water discharges to the Great Lakes, she said.
Illinois is in that watershed, which also includes parts of Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and some of Ontario in Canada. The Great Lakes are the largest surface freshwater system in the world.
Despite recent increases, there have been improvements in the last 10 years. Overall toxic releases in the Great Lakes Basin have decreased about 40% since 2003 and are currently at the second-lowest level in a decade.
TRI, established by a 1986 law, is probably the oldest and biggest public pollutant database program, and the foundation for scores of other federal environmental data projects.
“The Toxics Release Inventory provides widespread access to valuable environmental information,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “It plays a critical role in EPA’s efforts to hold polluters accountable and identify and acknowledge those who take steps to prevent pollution. Since 1998, we have recorded a steady decline in the amount of TRI chemicals released into the air, and since 2009 alone, we have seen more than a 100 million pound decrease in TRI air pollutants entering our communities. 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.”
Here are details on the dozen downstate counties, with the highest substance, the amount in pounds (and the company that released it: Fulton: 488,962 lbs of barium compounds (Ameren); Henderson: none reported; Henry: 24,805 acetaldehyde (a total from Big River Resources and Patriot Renewable Fuels); Knox: 41,412 N-Hexane (Archer-Daniels-Midland); Livingston: 6,946 ethylene Glycol (R.R. Donnelley); Mason: 544,376 barium compounds (Havana power station, owned by Dynegy); McDonough: 11,932 manganese (NTN-Bower); Mercer: 17,987 zinc compounds (Meminger Metal Finishing); Peoria: 1,049,912 barium compounds (Ameren); Tazewell: 1,100,000 barium compounds (Powerton Generating Station, owned by Midwest Generation LLC, a subsidiary of Edison International); Warren: 5 chromium (Heat & Control); and Woodford: 33,446 glycol ethers (CNH American).
So, no, we haven’t buried ourselves yet after all. In fact, maybe modest improvements even represent a flag-waving triumph.
[PICTURED: Illustration from ametek-land.com]