Texas Environmental Almanac


TRI: A Powerful Citizen's Tool


The Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) has proven to be one of the most effective tools for citizen groups and environmental advocates to decipher potential environmental and public-health hazards in their backyards. Though certain limitations exist, TRI data are relatively easy to access and can be used to analyze chemical releases in a facility, a zip code area, a city, a state or the country as a whole.

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was established under Title III of the federal Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1986. This legislation, which was supported by a wide array of labor, community and environmental organizations, gave citizens for the first time the "right-to-know" about hazardous chemicals in their communities. SARA Title III was a product of the widespread concern over chemical hazards that arose after the Union Carbide chemical release in Bhopal, India, which killed 2,500 people and injured hundreds of thousands in December 1984.

Under the Community Right-To-Know pro-gram, TRI requirements currently apply only to manufacturing facilities with 10 or more employees that use more than "threshold" amounts of any of 300 individual chemicals and 20 chemical categories which may be toxic to humans, animals, plants, aquatic life or the environment.(1) Efforts are underway to expand the chemicals and facilities that are required to report to TRI. For example, federal facilities began to report in 1994. In 1995 the EPA expanded the list of reportable chemicals to more than 650 chemicals and chemical categories. Manufacturers must report using the expanded list in 1996.

TRI data can provide initial information on the toxic chemicals that are released to air, water, land, underground injection or transported to off-site facilities for treatment and disposal, recycling and burning for energy recovery. These emission reports are made to state environmental regulatory agencies, such as the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) and to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This information is then made available to the general public.

According to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, TRI data is the best source to track pollution prevention progress; to identify pollution prevention opportunities; to improve emergency response planning; to aid employees in identifying potential risks; and to encourage community awareness of potential hazards in the environment.

Citizens can use the information to find out what chemicals are being released in their communities and neighborhoods, in what quantities, by whom and where the chemicals are going. This information can in turn be used as a basis of dialogue between residents and a particular manufacturing company on ways to reduce emissions and potential hazards.

In Austin, for example, an environmental justice organization has used TRI data to map sources of emissions in neighborhoods comprised primarily of people of color.(2) In Northfield, Minnesota, a labor union and community leaders used toxics release inventory data to negotiate the reduction, and ultimate elimination, of a probable carcinogen emitted by a local company.(3) And, in Puerto Rico, an environmental research organization has published a ranking of various facilities throughout the island based on the total pounds of chemicals released as well as the health effects of the chemicals emitted in the greatest amount.(4) The organization distributed the findings in their newsletter as a means to inform the public about the community right-to-know law.(5)

TRI data may be accessed through a telecommunications computer service, called RTK-NET, run by OMB Watch and the Unison Institute in Washington, DC. TRI data, as well as information on other federal environmental programs, can be obtained through RTK-NET's databases using a personal computer with a modem. TRI data can also be obtained by contacting the TRI Program at the TNRCC. For more information, contact:

OMB Watch/Unison Institute
1742 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20009-1171
202-234-8494 202-234-8584 (fax)

TRI Program
Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission
Office of Pollution Prevention & Recycling
P.O. Box 13087
Austin, Texas 78711-3087

U.S. EPA's EPCRA Information HOTLINE

EPA Region 6
Air, Pesticides & Toxics
U.S. EPA Region 6
1445 Ross Avenue
Dallas, Texas 75202-2733



  1. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, 1992 Toxics Release Inventory: Public Data Release, (Washington, DC: EPA, April 1994), 13-15.

  2. Unison Institute/OMB Watch, "Wrong Side of the Tire Tracks", ONLINE: The RTK NET Newsletter (Washington, DC: Unison Institute/OMB Watch, Fall 1992), 4-5.

  3. Nita Settina & Paul Orum, "Making the Difference, Part II: More Uses of Right-To-Know in the Fight Against Toxics" (Washington, DC: Center for Policy Alternatives/Working Group on Community Right-to-Know, 1991), 3-4.

  4. Centro De Información, Investigación y Educación Social, "Sustancias Tóxicas en Puerto Rico: El Derecho de la Comunidad a Saber" (Hato Rey, PR: Centro De Información, Investigación y Educación Social), 1992.

  5. Suzzette Delgado-Mendoza, Centro De Información, Investigación y Educación Social, phone interview with the Texas Center for Policy Studies, November 1994.
Texas Environmental Almanac, Environmental Focus: TRI: A Powerful Citizen's Tool

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