Belying its beautiful, rural appearance, North Carolina is in fact one of the most industrialized states in the southeastern US. In recent decades, NC has been actively recruiting numerous plants which use and produce toxic substances, either as the desired product or as waste. Today, we are the 6th leading state for actual releases of toxics to land, air, and water, scarcely a happy distinction for those seeking to "Keep North Carolina Green." Concerned citizens now have the ability to track these releases because of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) established by the US Congress in 1987. In 1984, emergency workers responding to a chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, were unable to protect themselves, let alone save lives or mitigate symptoms caused by the toxic gas from the Union Carbide agrochemical plant. No law required the plant to tell public officials what chemicals were being used there. Workers in the US and around the world had been struggling for the right to know about toxins in their workplace for many years, but after Bhopal, the world's leading democracies generally acknowledged a need to know about toxins being used or produced by local industries, in order to prepare for accidental releases. As part of the 1987 Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, the US Congress established the TRI, to which all major chemical-intensive industries (using 10,000 pounds or more) must report pounds of pollutants released to land, air, and water. (The list of chemicals required by companies to report now numbers over 600, but had begun with 350 such chemicals.) Reporting by industries was spotty, and often inaccurate in the first few years, but has been steadily improving. Public release of TRI data has generally been about 2 years behind the reporting year (the latest data available in early 1998 is from 1995), but EPA officials expect more rapid turnaround with reporting increasingly being made electronically. A look at the TRI report for your county can be startling. The accompanying chart summarizes the 1995 release data for Chatham, Durham, Orange, and Wake Counties, and includes the largest polluters (in terms of pounds released). The toxicity of the emissions released by each company has not been ranked here, but you can find out more in your own TRI search.
Individual citizens may now research major toxic releases in their County (or even zip code), including specific chemicals released and where, and even parent companies of polluters using the Right To Know Network (www.rtk.net) and selecting environmental databases. This site and EPA's Environet (www.epa.gov/enviro) also allows one to search for all hazardous waste handlers (the RCRIS database) in their neighborhood. You might even discover a dry-cleaner, autobody shop, or packaging plant that's not listed, in which case, the company may be operating without the required EPA permits! For more information on researching toxic releases in your community, contact NC WARN, the North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, at (919) 490-0747. There is no force more powerful for pollution prevention than informed workers and citizens. Let's work toward zero emissions in the Triangle and everywhere!!
|Hope Taylor is a scientist and activist living in Stem, North Carolina.|
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