EPA Report Identifies Metal Mining as Primary Source of Toxic Chemical Releases in Pacific Southwest

Carson River in Nevada River with mountains in the background and the words, EPA in the Pacific Southwest

(Credit: EPA Pacific Southwest)

by | Mar 20, 2023

Carson River in NevadaMetal Mining
River with mountains in the background and the words, EPA in the Pacific Southwest

(Credit: EPA Pacific Southwest)

The metal mining sector in Nevada and Arizona contributed most significantly to the total Toxics Release Inventory (TRI)-reported chemical releases, accounting for 84% of the total releases in the Pacific Southwest region for 2021.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its 2021 Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis, providing an overview of the management of toxic chemicals by facilities across the country. According to the report, environmental releases of TRI chemicals from facilities nationwide covered by the program remained below pre-pandemic levels, and releases in 2021 were 10% lower than 2012 releases, despite an 8% increase from 2020 to 2021.

Furthermore, the report highlights that in 2021, facilities managed 89% of their TRI chemical waste through preferred practices such as recycling, energy recovery, and treatment while reporting that they released 11% of their TRI chemical waste into the environment. The Pacific Southwest region, which includes the U.S. Pacific Island territories, showed a slight decrease in toxic chemical releases compared to 2020. Facilities in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and the Pacific Island territories managed 932 million pounds of production-related waste and released 554 million pounds of TRI chemicals into the environment, a decrease in releases of less than 1% from 2020.

Metal Mining Sector in Nevada and Arizona

The metal mining sector, mainly in Nevada and Arizona, accounted for 84% of the TRI-reported chemical releases for 2021 in the Pacific Southwest. Excluding metal mining, releases in the Pacific Southwest have decreased by 7.8% since 2012, with the primary metals (including smelting), hazardous waste management, and petroleum sectors reporting the highest releases. Changes in the chemical composition of ore extracted at metal mines can result in significant year-to-year changes in the amount of waste metal mines report to TRI.

The 2021 TRI National Analysis includes updated visualizations and analytical tools to make data more valuable and accessible to communities, including the option to view data by region and watershed. EPA has also updated demographic information in the “Where You Live” mapping tool and in the Chemical Profiles section. Readers can view facility locations with overlayed demographic data to identify potential exposure to TRI chemical releases in vulnerable communities.

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