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My Watershed

Data Limitations of the Toxics Release Inventory

TRI is one of the most comprehensive environmental data resources available because it does not focus on a single medium (air, land, or water). It is one of the most widely cited and tracked environmental indicators used by the public, news media, environmental groups, and regulators. Even so, TRI has some limitations.

Exposure

The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) cannot be used alone to determine risk. TRI data does not show if or to what degree the public is exposed to listed chemicals. Exposure to a chemical depends on many factors, including whether it was released to air, water, or on land.

Toxicity

TRI chemicals vary widely in toxicity. High quantity releases of less-toxic chemicals might seem to be a more serious problem than lower-quantity releases of highly toxic chemicals. Just the opposite can be true. Dioxins are a good example of a chemical that is highly toxic in small amounts.

Not all Toxics are Reported

TRI doesn’t include all toxic releases. TRI can only provide information about toxic chemicals included on the TRI chemical list for specific industry sectors. Emissions from vehicles, other types of businesses, and many other sources are not captured by the TRI. For example, pollution released by service businesses like dry cleaners or auto service stations and pesticides used in agriculture are not included.

TRI also doesn’t account for the toxic chemicals found in personal care products and household pharmaceuticals that are disposed down the drain or placed in landfills.

Delayed Reporting

TRI information is collected for releases that occur over a calendar year, so there is no way to know exactly when the release took place. Releases (potential exposures) may have occurred throughout the year or as one-time events. Also, because reports for each calendar year are due on July 1 of the following year, there is a delay between when the releases occur and when the data about these releases become available.

Estimated Releases

Many facilities report actual measurements, but others submit estimated data. Different measurement techniques make data accuracy and comparison between facilities more difficult. However, EPA publishes guidance to help businesses report estimated releases as accurately as possible.