Alaska puts toxic release inventory into perspective
The federal Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) issued their annual “Toxics Release Inventory,”
or list of the estimated weight of toxic chemicals that have been
“released” in the nation’s air, land and water.
The report compares the total weight in each state, then ranks
the states from highest to lowest. This year’s report will
again list Alaska as having the greatest weight of toxic “releases”
in the nation.
“Alaskans need to understand
what this really means in terms of what’s actually been
discharged into the air, land and water,” said Environmental
Conservation Commissioner Kurt Fredriksson.
Chemical wholesalers, electric
utilities, federal facilities with ten or more employees are all
required to submit reports on the amount of more than 650 chemicals
their facilities released into the environment (either routinely
or accidentally), or otherwise managed as waste. In Alaska the
mining industry produces these materials as a natural part of
“The total pounds of ‘releases’
do not at all reflect an accurate picture of Alaska’s environmental
quality. The waste rock from Alaska mines is well engineered,
contained and regulated by state and federal agencies,”
Fredriksson added. “Alaska’s TRI releases are permitted
discharges, regulated under state and federal laws. Alaska’s
environment continues to be clean, healthy and productive.
”DEC prepared a guide to
TRI for Alaskans, available online at www.dec.state.ak.us, which
explains mining waste rock as being the reason Alaska’s
numbers are larger than other states. It also explains why releases
in remote bush locations are greater than Alaska’s more
EPA’s Region 10 TRI Coordinator,
Christina Colt, said that in determining risk, site specific information
is necessary, including a material’s toxicity, persistence
in the environment, and amount and duration of human or environmental
“TRI data alone cannot
be used to quantify risk to public health and the environment,”
Colt said. Alaska had the fewest facilities reporting releases.
Alaska’s most populated and industrialized South central
region had a much smaller volume of releases (3.1 million pounds)
than did the least populated area of the state (487.37 million
More than 90% of the total pounds
reported in 2003 were primarily waste rock containing minute levels
of minerals like zinc and lead that are listed as TRI chemicals.
Waste rock from the largest zinc mine in the world, Tech-Cominco’s
Red Dog Mine near Kotzebue, was the largest reported “release”