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State Solid and Hazardous Waste Plan Update

Toxic Substances Used by Washington Industries

This indicator tracks the annual amount of toxic or other hazardous chemicals used by industries and large businesses in Washington. The graph tracks use since 2007. From 2007 to 2009, total amounts of toxic substances dropped and then trended upward since 2010. We suspect this trend is largely in relation to the state's overall economy.

Reducing the volume of hazardous substances used by industries is important because the risk from toxic chemicals doesn't begin with a leaking drum at an industrial site; it begins when chemicals are used to make products or deliver services. Safe management of hazardous substances is essential to protecting human health and the environment, but avoiding the use of toxic chemicals in the first place is the smartest, cheapest, and healthiest approach.

Toxic Substances Reduced Data

With a new electronic reporting system available, we are able to track actual chemical inventories used in industries. While the historic data shows mixed results often correlated to the economy, we know that businesses are capable of significant reductions at any time – in part because these actions save money.

In recent years, Ecology has helped Washington businesses use Lean to improve manufacturing processes. Based on the Toyota Production System, Lean identifies and eliminates wastes and non-value-added activities. This has increased profits and customer satisfaction while reducing the amount of hazardous substances used and waste created. For example, Accra-Fab in Liberty Lake is saving nearly $180,000 each year because of Lean. The ten businesses who participated in Ecology’s Lean and Green Project reported total savings of $2.1 million per year.

We expect further reductions in toxic substance use as Ecology focuses its business assistance on ways to help businesses use fewer toxic or hazardous chemicals and make it easier for businesses to track and report their successes.

Why should we be concerned about how much toxic or hazardous chemicals are used?

There are risks in using and storing - not just disposing of - hazardous chemicals both at home and on the job. Some chemicals pose an immediate health threat (such as industrial solvents or yard chemicals), while others pose a risk as products break down, or when they are disposed. Some chemicals build up in our bodies and the environment gradually - for example, persistent, bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs), and heavy metals.

What are the benefits of reducing the amount of toxic or hazardous chemicals used?

There is increasing concern about toxic chemicals in consumer products. Reducing the amount of toxics in products means that products are safer and less likely to adversely affect human health or the environment.

Washington businesses produce - and are required to safely manage - over 100 million pounds of hazardous waste annually. Over the last two years, Ecology has provided over one thousand technical assistance visits to Washington businesses. Ecology Pollution Prevention (P2) specialists showed the businesses' staff how to achieve energy savings, conserve water, prevent storm water contamination, and use fewer toxic chemicals, which often results in less environmental liability and money saved.

What are some Beyond Waste actions being taken to decrease toxic or hazardous chemicals used in Washington?

The many effects of toxic chemical exposure to human health, the environment, and the economy are largely preventable as state, national, and international efforts transition to safer chemistry. Ecology projects supporting safer chemicals include:

  • The Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse, a consortium of states working to keep regulated toxic metals out of consumer product packaging.
  • Increased distribution and use of Ecology's Quick Chemical Assessment Tool to help businesses identify highest-risk chemicals and safer chemical alternatives.
  • A multi-state effort to reform the federal chemical management law (the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act), including use of a set of states' principles on national chemical policy reform.
  • Certifying manufacturer compliance with the Better Brakes Law and assessing the availability of alternative auto brake friction materials that eliminate or reduce copper, asbestiform fibers, cadmium, lead, and mercury. Currently, these toxic substances are being washed off roads into streams, rivers, and Puget Sound.
  • A Roadmap for Advancing Green Chemistry in Washington State, including creation of a Green Chemistry Center.
  • Working with the Department of Enterprise Services to increase the number and use of contracts offering environmentally-preferred products.

Related Indicators

Click on the small chart below to go to the related indicator.

Risks from Toxic Releases

Want more information on toxic or hazardous chemicals in Washington?

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


This page last updated March 2016