EPA releases 2008 air pollution data–early

Every July the EPA collects reports on releases of 650 toxic chemicals from more than 23,000 industrial sites throughout the United States. The agency usually releases the data in a comprehensive report each December, but as part of EPA’s new openness policy the agency released the raw data today.
For Americans this means that starting today, you can visit the website of the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, search by state or zip code, and find out what you were inhaling last year. As I write this, the TRI server that lets you search by zip code is either overloaded or down, but Windows users can download data files by state on this page.
The rawness of the data means some may be missing or innacurate, and the EPA plans to update the files again next month and complete its report as usual in December. Meanwhile, here’s the kind of information you can discern:
I live near the Fisk Generating Station, a coal power station operated by Edison International on the South Side of Chicago that predates, and has not yet been required to comply with, the Clean Air Act. According to the EPA data, the Fisk Generating Station releases barium, barium compounds, copper compounds, dioxin, dioxin-like compounds, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen fluoride, lead compounds, manganese compounds, mercury compounds, sulfuric acid and vanadium compounds into the environment.
I can click on each of those categories to find out how much. For example, in 2007, Fisk released 6,900 pounds of carcinogenic barium compounds and 0.36 grams of highly poisonous dioxin out of its smokestack and into the air in my neighborhood.
“EPA’s job is to ensure an open and transparent flow of information between Americans and their government, and today’s unprecedented step represents the agency’s commitment to doing just that,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, said in a press release. “While we are still analyzing this information, we hope this raw data will be reviewed and used responsibly by stakeholders and the public to help them make informed decisions.”

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