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state solid and hazardous waste plan update photo identifier

State Solid and Hazardous Waste Plan Update

Photo: Factory smokestacks billowing smoke and steam.
Factory smokestacks billowing smoke and steam.

Risks from Toxic Releases

This indicator tracks the relative risks to humans from toxic releases from industrial activities in Washington State.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the Risk Screening Environmental Indicator (RSEI) to prioritize toxic releases that might be of public health concern. Whether a toxic chemical causes harm depends on many factors, but includes the amount a person is exposed to and the toxicity of the chemical.

The RSEI takes the pounds of toxics emitted to the environment, analyzes their toxicity and risk to humans, and ranks their potential risk relative to other Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) releases.

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Toxic Release Risks from Manufacturers Data

The RSEI model uses information provided by the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The TRI is a national database with information about toxic chemicals manufactured and used at certain industrial and federal facilities, and releases of those chemicals to air, land, and water. Washington's RSEI scores show that risks from toxic chemical releases continue to decrease. This is good news!

The newest RSEI model (version 2.3.1) added three years to the dataset. This made the 2010 TRI data the most recent available for RSEI modeling.

RSEI risk scores provide an important perspective for viewing TRI releases in Washington. Washington's TRI releases to water and air in terms of total pounds released (as seen in the graph below) show a general downward trend. There are slight increases in both air and water releases beginning in 2009. Yet the RSEI model demonstrates that although releases to air and water increased, the risk to human health from the release of these chemicals went down.

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There are several possible explanations for how TRI pounds could go up while RSEI risk scores went down. The facility releasing a large amount of TRI chemicals could be located in a less-populated area. RSEI risk scores are calculated, in part, by the population density around a chemical release. Another possibility is that facilities are using safer chemicals instead of more toxic ones. Although the amounts of toxic chemicals have increased, the risk from exposure to these chemicals is lower.

The table below shows the top ten TRI chemicals with the most reduction in RSEI risk scores between 2007 and 2010. They are ranked by their RSEI score. Chromium and chromium compounds, both persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic (PBT) chemicals, top the list for the greatest reductions in risk score between 2007 and 2010. To view the complete list click on the link below the table.

Top Ten TRI Chemicals Showing a Reduction in RSEI Score:  2007-2010

TRI Chemical Name

RSEI Risk

Score 2007

RSEI Risk

Score 2010

Reduction in RSEI

Score 2007-2010

Chromium and chromium compounds 3,781,696 535,890 3,245,806
Polycyclic aromatic compounds 128,975 18,882 110,093
Trichloroethylene 99,485 4,672 94,813
Formaldehyde 102,320 52,596 49,724
Nickel and nickel compounds 152,745 122,661 30,084
Manganese and manganese compounds 43,419 20,394 23,025
Chloroform 171,114 154,579 16,535
Acetaldehyde 46,635 30,981 15,654
Sulfuric acid 8,848 4,027 4,821
Diisocyanates 5,643 972 4,671

Complete list of TRI Chemicals showing a reduction in RSEI score.

The table below shows the top ten TRI chemicals with the greatest increase in RSEI risk scores between 2007 and 2010. To view the complete list click on the link below the table.

Top Ten TRI Chemicals Showing an Increase in RSEI Score:  2007-2010

TRI Chemical Name

RSEI Risk

Score 2007

RSEI Risk

Score 2010

Increase in RSEI

Score 2007-2010

Benzene 18,684 21,548 2,864
Arsenic and arsenic compounds 11 1,179 1,168
Copper and copper compounds 901 1,906 1,005
Cobalt and cobalt compounds 5,898 6,833 935
Cadmium and cadmium compounds 20 950 930
Hydrochloric acid 3,441 3,900 459
1.2-Dichloroethane 2,332 2,705 373
Acrylamide 520 700 180
Lead and lead compounds 2,642 2,757 115
Carbonyl sulfide 1,014 1,106 92
Complete list of TRI Chemicals showing an increase in RSEI score.

Why should we be concerned about toxic releases?

The amount of toxic chemicals released represents potential risk to human health and the environment. Toxic chemicals can cause cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. Releases of toxic chemicals threaten the health of our air, soil, and water. TRI data and RSEI scores can help identify priorities and opportunities to work with industry and others to reduce releases of toxic chemicals and the potential risks associated with them.

What are the benefits of reducing the amount of toxic releases?

  • Reduces risks to human health.
  • Improves the quality of our air, land, and water.
  • Liability and other costs associated with manufacturing and handling hazardous chemicals are often reduced when businesses use less toxic chemicals or reduce the amount used.

What are some actions being taken to decrease risks from toxic releases?

Ecology and other organizations are:

  • Providing technical assistance to businesses to help them reduce their use of toxic materials.
  • Working with Washington businesses to incorporate lean manufacturing techniques into their processes.
  • Researching alternatives to chemicals that are highly toxic.

Want more information about RSEI and our efforts to reduce toxic chemicals in Washington?

For more information, contact Gretchen Newman, 360-407-6097.

This page last updated March 2016