EPA: Alaska leads nation in watersheds with most toxic releases

A latest Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency shows a continued decrease in releases from facilities in EPA’ Region 10, including Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

The report released on March 16 contains data on toxic chemicals manufactured, processed, or managed at thousands of facilities nationwide, including chemicals that facilities manage as waste and are released into the environment, burned for energy, or recycled and transferred from one facility to another. Facilities in Region 10 in 2021 managed 1.1 billion pounds of production related waste and released or disposed of 777 million pounds of TRI chemicals into the environment, the EPA reported.

From 2012 to 2021, releases in Region 10 decreased by over 19% and production related waste decreased by over 14%, driven by typical yearly fluctuation, the report said.

Changes in the chemical composition of ore extracted from metal mines may result in large year-to-year changes in the amount of waste metal reported to TRI by miners. Excluding the metal mining sector, Region 10 releases have decreased by over 15% since 2012, driven by a 55% reduction in waste disposal, the EPA said.

The TRI was established under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act due to concerns regarding environmental and safety hazards posed by storage and handling of toxic chemicals.

The latest report, summarizing toxic releases for 2021, notes that facilities released 3.3 billion pounds of TRI chemicals, a 10% decrease since 2012. Air releases decreased 26% in the last decade, driven by reductions from electric utilities, the report said.


Industries and businesses in the U.S. use many chemicals to make products the public depends on, including pharmaceuticals, computers, paints, clothing and automobiles. While most chemicals on the TRI chemical list are managed by facilities in ways that minimize releases into the environment, releases still occur as part of normal business operations, the EPA said.

Alaska Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Jason Brune took issue with the TRI report, saying that by not specifying the manner of release that the TRI mischaracterizes the harm to the public and undermines the critical work regulators do.

Brune said in a statement issued on March 16, Alaska’s metal mining industry accounts for 99.8% of the releases in Alaska. Out of that total about 99.56% of the reported releases from Alaska mines reflects permitted and regulated activities, largely moving material to regulated treatment or onsite waste storage areas, he said.

“Moving rocks around from one pile to another at a permitted mine, according to EPA’s TRI report, is far worse than the recent train derailment and associated release of hazardous materials that has impacted thousands of people and devastated the environment in Ohio,” said Brune. “Because of this, EPA once again demonizes the very industries that are vital to the Biden Administration’s goal to decarbonize our nation, which requires increasing domestic production of critical and strategic minerals.”

In 2021, over 21,000 facilities reported to the TRI program. Under Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) and the Pollution Prevention Act (PPA), facilities that meet TRI reporting requirements must report details about their pollution prevention and waste management activities, including releases, of TRI-listed chemicals that occurred during the calendar year to EPA’s TRI Program by July 1 of the following year.