Below is a written transcript of the webinar:
(0:00) JEN: Welcome everyone on behalf of the Environmental Council of the States and the US Environmental Protection Agency, to our “Introduction to the Toxics Release Inventory for Communities” webinar. My name is Jennifer Major from Ross Strategic and I’ll be moderating today’s sessions and managing the webinar logistics.
To kick things off I’d first like to thank our co-sponsors, the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) and US Environmental Protection Agency. Bryan Shipley, the TRI Program Manager for ECOS, would like to say a few words and give you a bit of background on the purpose of today’s webinar. Bryan, thanks so much for being here today.
BRYAN: On behalf of the Environmental Council of the States and EPA, we’d like to thank you for joining us today. These webinars serve as critical pathways for disseminating information to the TRI stakeholder community. The speakers today will help stakeholders and the general public better understand, access, and utilize TRI information. Our TRI Conferences, such as the one held this past April, provide even more access to TRI information. Presentations from all conferences and this webinar are available on our chemicalright2know website. We hope you enjoy the webinar.
JEN: Thank you Bryan!
We have a packed agenda, with 3 presenters that we are very fortunate to have with us. Before we get started on the presentations I’d like to take a couple of minutes now to walk through a few logistics.
Let’s go over the agenda.
(4:11) Learning Objectives:
(4:54) Ok let’s get started! Our first presenter is Lily Lee. Lily is the TRI Coordinator for EPA’s Region 9. In her 14 years in the Region’s San Francisco office, she has served as Manager of the Environmental Justice Program and as Guam Program Manager. Lily also spent 6 years in the City of East Palo Alto redeveloping brownfields sites in an EJ community, for which she received the Administrator’s Award for Excellence. To read more about Lily’s extensive EJ background, please check out her full bio on www.chemicalright2know.org. Ok, Lily, turning things over to you now. Thanks for being with us today.
(5:50) LILY: Hi everybody, I’m Lily Lee. Thanks for that introduction. Thanks for joining, and we hope that this will be useful to you. I’m sure you and your communities have all sorts of questions about toxic chemicals near you. Here are some sample ones that I can help to answer. You may be wondering if the toxics are getting worse or are getting better. You may wonder what are the chemicals that are being released near you. And which companies might be responsible for which chemicals. And you may have specific questions because you have kids and people who are sensitive in some other way to toxics and you want to learn more about it. So we’re hoping that the TRI can give you some of the information that you might need. As Jen has already told you, we’re going to be giving you just enough of an introduction to TRI to then give you Erin as a real-life example of using it and go through how this could be helpful to you. Shelley at the end will talk about what U.S. EPA is doing to do more for community engagement. We look forward to you about what you think you might want to use it for and how we can be more supportive to you. We’ll have our contact information available and you can call me and any of the rest of us any time.
(8:20) What is the TRI? It is a collection of information that anybody in the public can access online that can tell you about certain facilities and what toxics they release that are near you. It doesn’t just tell you about releases, the chemicals going out into the air, water, or land, but it also tells you about waste transfers, which are toxics that are going to another location. We want to learn about this so we can think about opportunities to do better. Information about recycling and pollution prevention that facilities have already implemented. How did this whole thing start? Some of you remember there was a very tragic disaster in 1984 in Bhopal, India, in which thousands of people died right away when methyl isocyanate was released through an accident. It had long-lasting impacts. Soon after in the United States, there was another chemical release that made it hit home for people “This could happen near me too.” So the public, along with Congress, said, “We didn’t know that there were all these chemicals that were right next door to us.” In its wisdom, Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) which created the TRI because everyone should have a right to know what’s near them. One of the things that community members are most interested in are releases. The word “release” may sound very scary because it sounds like a big spill, but there are many different kinds of releases. You may be thinking about air releases from a smokestack, but there can also be fugitive releases like that little leaking out of that pipe you see in the picture. The TRI also talks about releases from water, and that last picture shows land. It could be that there are chemicals stored onsite on a facility and that’s what we would call land releases. Just because it’s getting to you; there are a lot of factors that may affect that.
(11:00) Why is this important, and how can TRI help communities? You may have heard of communities that have taken information from EPA and been able to put it out into the public. Which chemicals are being released by which facilities? People might see newspaper articles about the dirty dozen in their town, or fact sheets that people may bring to their city councils or other places where they want to influence what’s happening. Another way people use it is to say, is it getting worse, is it getting better, should I be more worried? Finally, it can help facilities and communities find out if the pollution released in one place is larger than another place, maybe they should focus there rather than the place where the amount is less. That is the kind of information that Tonawanda was looking at. Here is an example of what they have found from looking at TRI data. You can do it too and we are hoping you will feel inspired to do it yourself.
With that, let me hand things over to Erin Heaney. She is this amazing powerhouse, the Executive Director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York. This is a grassroots group that develops community-based leaders who run and win campaigns that advance environmental justice and public health in western NY. She has brokered good neighbor agreements between residents and industry and she was the lead organizer on a campaign for enforcement action at Tonawanda Cook Corporation that resulted in 20 federal indictments and a consent order with the company to reduce benzene emissions by two-thirds. So, she is somebody we can learn a lot from and we appreciate the chance to learn from her.
JEN: Ok, thank you Lily.
(13:20) Erin: Thanks for the introduction. I’m really excited to be here today. We are a grassroots environmental health organization located in Buffalo, New York, which is on the western side of the state. I’m going to talk about how we’ve used TRI to train leaders in the community and make some pretty substantial policy changes on the ground.
I wanted to talk about the different neighborhoods in which we work and some of the challenges that we are up against. Tonawanda, New York, has 53 industrial plants within a two-mile radius. Each of those little dots on the screen there are industrial plants. These include a coal-burning power plant, the world’s largest sponge-making facility, chemical plants, and petroleum distribution terminals. There are people living scattered in between all those industrial facilities. The wind blows to the right, so it blows into highly dense residential neighborhoods. The New York State Department of Health has found elevated levels of cancer, low birth weight, and respiratory illness in the town.
We also work on the lower west side of Buffalo, which has a diesel exhaust problem, with 4,000 trucks and 20,000 cars that come over the bridge through the neighborhood daily and as a result there are elevated levels of lung cancer and asthma in the neighborhood. We also work in the Blackrock neighborhood which is nestled between these two neighborhoods and they have had many chemical accidents, including over 6 chemical accidents and fires within the last year. There are over 25 small manufacturing facilities that store large amounts of hazardous chemicals on the property. Those are some of the challenges that we’re trying to address in our part of the world. Our mission as an organization is to build power in these neighborhoods. We do that by investing in the people who live in those neighborhoods, developing them to become strong advocates for their neighborhood, and to go out and advance policies that advance public health in western NY. These are some of our members advocating.
(15:31) How do we get there, how do we achieve that mission? We do three things, we develop and advocate for policy that protects public health and the environment, we develop grassroots leaders, and we do community-based research and disseminate information to communities. This is Lois Gibbs, infamous from Love Canal, with some of our leaders, empowering them, and one of our leaders at a rally.
One thing before we dive into TRI that I wanted to note is that at our organization is that TRI is not the silver bullet that’s going to solve all of our problems. It’s a really useful tool, but we use it with lots of other kinds of data as well. So I just listed some here; we combine TRI data with academic research, health research that’s been done by universities, other health-based government agencies, we’re lucky enough to have New York State monitoring the air in the neighborhood so we often pair that up with TRI data, and we do a lot of community-based research, so, you see a picture of some of our members going out and testing the air in their neighborhood, we’ve done oral history projects, mapping projects, we file formal complaints to government agencies when there are strong odors or dark smoke coming from plants, and our members use texting as a way to track what’s happening in the neighborhood. TRI while it’s an amazing resource, we use it partnered with lots of other kinds of data.
So why do we think that people should have access to TRI, and why do we use TRI? Well, at our organization we really think that collective action is the best way to change how plants operate and to reduce emissions. This is a quote from one of my favorite authors who wrote a book about the origin, politics, and impacts of TRI, and he says that while plants do take into account the nature of who bears the risk, whether or not they’re going to change their behavior depends on whether or not residents are informed and organized to help encourage the plant to make different decisions. We think that if you want to improve environmental quality in your neighborhood, you’ve got to have access to data, that’s got to be available to the public. The public has to know how to access it, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
(17:46) How have we used TRI? We’ve used it in a couple of different ways. We’ve trained a core group of leaders in Tonawanda to access information and understand it. The first step we took was to work closely with EPA as part of our CARE grant. We had access to Nora Lopez who’s the TRI coordinator in Region 2. She actually came to Buffalo and trained a small group of our staff and community leaders on many TRI databases. So, there’s a number of ways to access TRI, and she trained us on a number of those databases. From there, we were able to develop several workshops for our members and communities based on that pretty extensive training that she gave us. We had one exciting workshop, and these were the goals that we wanted to get out of it, that we wanted to be able to train our leaders to do. That our participants at the end of the workshop would understand EPCRA and TRI, to leave with a better understanding of how change happens in EPA and in Congress, we really wanted folks to understand the history of this awesome database, and how it came to be, we think that was really important. We also wanted people to be able to use the databases, the more simple databases, and also understand the limitations of TRI; I mentioned earlier it’s not the silver bullet, so, what can TRI do, what can’t it do. We wanted folks to understand who reports to TRI, how they report to TRI, when they report to TRI. And we wanted folks to learn about the facilities in their neighborhood. So these are the goals, and here’s how we got there. So, we had a lot of fun doing introductions, we had a basic overview of TRI, heard the legislative history of how it came to be, talked about limitations, how it works, and then we took a break, had lots of coffee and food, then we moved into a separate room and got people actually on computers, got people looking at TRI, and tested it out. And evaluated how it all went. So, there were a couple of lessons that we learned from this. This is actually me and one of our members, Ron. Ron here is explaining some of the limitations. Ron was able to participate in that first workshop with Nora, and he learned the ways in which TRI can be helpful, and can’t be helpful. So here he’s explaining that release doesn’t necessarily mean that someone’s impacted, it depends on a whole range of things. One of them is how big of a person you are: releases may affect children differently than they affect adults. Ron, one of our leaders and a member of the community, was talking about how a release might impact him very differently than that release might impact me.
We talked about the limitations of the data, what TRI can and can’t do, some of those limitations include how frequently it comes out, how quickly it comes out, and then we gave a context and related it to people’s lives. So, we showed a short film on the accident in Bhopal India, and asked people to reflect on where they were when that accident happened, and all the things that have happened between now and then. This is Rebecca, one of our organizers, plotting out how long it took to create the database on a map.
So then as I mentioned earlier we brought folks over into the computer lab and we had some folk who were strong computer users and others who were not as computer literate. We paired them up and did a brief overview of how to access the website. Once we did that we asked folks to answer some of these questions. What am I exposed to in my neighborhood, how many plants are in my neighborhood, how do the plants in my neighborhood compare to plants across the country, so what are the releases from a coal plant in Tonawanda versus a coal plant in Detroit, and who is the largest emitter. People actually went on their computers and began to investigate and share the results. This is some participants investigating, and this is what the room looked like as people shared with one another. So that was the first training we did, and since then we’ve done a couple of other trainings for leaders in the neighborhood. One really exciting thing that came out of it is we had a couple teachers at the first training we did and a couple teachers went back and used that training in their classrooms, science teachers who went back and had their kids hop on and learn what they were being exposed to, which was exciting. Then we also designed another training for folks with low literacy levels. Many folks in the neighborhood we work in that are not strong readers and writers. Here you see folks designing a visual representation of the TRI information in their neighborhood. So we paired up strong readers with not-so-strong readers and we created a visual representation of the releases from different plants in Tonawanda. Kind of a different twist.
A couple things to keep in mind as you’re designing a workshop for the folks in your community. One is to use popular education. Don’t think of yourself as bestowing knowledge onto people, but instead draw on what people already know in their neighborhood. For example, in our workshop, many residents were excited to see that things that they knew intuitively were backed up by really good data. We asked people to take guesses as to who might be the largest emitters and they were right in many cases. The top three, they guessed because they live in the neighborhood, they smell it, they see it every single day. Draw on what people already know and make them active participants in the workshop. Think about who your audience is. Are they able to use computers? If they’re not, you’re going to have to get a little more creative. How strong readers and writers do you have in the class? Conversely, if you have a team of engineers, make sure you get into the technical stuff earlier on. Who delivers the message? We thought it was important that it wasn’t someone from EPA or the New York State DEC giving the presentation, but it was other people in their community that were trusted. So think about who’s delivering the message. Another thing to think about is separating what you’re going to teach and how you’re going to teach it. That goes back to popular education. We try to use all three channels of learning. We use videos and timelines for visual learners, for oral learners we did a lot of talking, and we let people get on the computers and do it, interact with the databases so people were able to learn in all different kinds of ways.
A couple things to keep in mind as you’re working in your community: meet people where they’re at. As I said earlier, if people aren’t strong on the computer, don’t start on the computer. Start somewhere else. Separate content from the delivery, that’s what I just ended with, who delivers the message really does matter. Make space and be prepared for emotion. Many of our members when they first pulled up their neighborhood and they began to look at some of the chemicals that were being released in their neighborhoods, they were very upset. They were many people who it opened their eyes for the first time and were very emotional about seeing what they were being exposed to. It’s just important that folks that are prepared for that and able to make space for those kinds of very real emotions.
So that’s how we’ve used it to train leaders in the communities. There are a couple of ways we’ve used it externally to reach other groups of people. The first is the general public. We’ve got a core group of leaders who are great advocates of the community but we need the broader community to understand environmental information. One way we’ve done that is through the press. We’ve developed relationships with reporters and these are some of our members speaking with reporters in the community about releases. One of the things that we’ve done locally is work with reporters to release a top ten list, so the companies that are releasing the greatest amount of toxics each year, and that tends to raise people’s awareness. We’ve also worked with the press to produce stories on one or two high-priority chemicals. Just because there’s a large amount of something being released in the air doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s hazardous. We’ve focused in our neighborhood on benzene because Tonawanda has very very high releases of benzene. And benzene is a known human carcinogen. We focus in on the most toxic chemicals, the chemicals that have the most risk for giving people cancer, and work to produce press releases around that and press hits. We’ve also worked to produce success stories for industries that have made reductions. One of the great things about TRI is that companies also report when they are doing pollution prevention and when they are doing something on recycling. So it’s important to lift up the companies that are doing the right thing and those make really great stories as well. We always make sure that we incorporate the impact on people, so you see our members here talking to press. It’s important to when working with the press to be able to provide people and real stories to complement the hard statistical data. We’ve also done opinion pieces based on what we’ve learned from TRI, this is the course of action that companies or the government should take moving forward. So other methods to educate the public include mass mailings, sending out information in our newsletter, we run a doorknocking project every summer we go out and knock on doors and we incorporate TRI information into what we talk about to people on their front steps about, and we’ve also done large public meetings. This is a picture of a public meeting with the DEC where they are releasing air quality information from a monitor, but we’ve also but they are also talking about changes from TRI as well. So that’s the way that we educate other folks. Then we also take in information to meet with policymakers. On the left are two city councilmen in the City of Buffalo and one of them has an air monitoring badge on. We routinely take members to meet with policymakers to share their concerns and educate them about companies that are doing the right thing and companies that we would like to change their behavior as well. So that’s been a really exciting way for us to use TRI as well.
Those are some of the ways in which we’ve used TRI. This is how to get a hold of me and our website, one thing that’s really exciting is ECOS has funded our organization to help spiff up and improve our training curriculum that we used last year and it’s going to be turned into a national curriculum that will be shared with folks all over the country so that will be available on our website and presumably ECOS’ website in the spring. That’s what I’ve got and I’m looking forward to the rest of the panel.
JEN: Erin thanks for your presentation on Tonawanda. I’d like to take 10 minutes now, before we jump into some TRI specifics, to answer questions from our attendees.
The first question is: To what level of accuracy are the release data provided? Are facilities required to track certain units of measurement or are ranges used? What happens if a facility only monitors on a cycle of every five years?
CORY: Hi this is Cory Wagner with the TRI program. The data are generally reported in pounds, with the exception of dioxin which is reported in grams. We generally report to two significant digits. To the second part of the question that dealt with monitoring, whether that’s required or not, there is no requirement for monitoring under EPCRA section 313. The requirement is that they provide us with their best available information. Now, if they are required to monitor under another EPA program, or another non-EPA program that would be considered their best available information. But EPCRA 313 does not require monitoring. There was a question about ranges in there, in the absence of monitoring and for non-PBT chemicals you may report a range code which is an estimate of a release between a certain level of pounds released. So you may use ranges for non-PBT, that is persistent bioaccumulative and toxic compounds which are more toxic than some of the other compounds on the TRI list, and in the lack of having any kind of point estimate you can use ranges. The question about longer-term monitoring, data that’s only collected every five years, TRI has an annual data reporting cycle, and as I mentioned previously they are required to report their best available information. So if they’re tracking for a given program data over five years they would still for us have to track for an individual year what they would have to report, whether that would be a monitoring program if they’re required or their best available information from engineering expertise.
LILY: To add to that on the first point about the accuracy, the reports that we have heard community residents, I was going to cover this later, but I’ll just talk about it now, some people have said these facilities are just self-reporting, how do we know that we can trust that they’re telling us the right amounts? One thing I wanted to let you know is we have two ways to do that. One is strong enforcement. The Congress, in its wisdom, established an enforcement authority for EPA so we do have inspectors in every part of our country who go and inspect facilities to see if they are reporting when they’re supposed to be and also that those reports are accurate. We can’t catch everybody but we hope that that does deter people if they know that we’re watching them. Another way is that recently we’ve stepped up our data quality checks. Even though the facilities submit on July 1st what they say their releases are, we have across the country a check on if some of those numbers look strangely really different from last year or if there’s other reasons for red flags, we do call and say are you sure this is what you meant to report? So those two programs help to ensure the accuracy of the TRI data.
(34:34) JEN:Awesome thanks Lily. We have a few questions specifically for Erin. How can I find out if my community has a local group like the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York?
ERIN: That’s a great question. I believe either your EPA’s environmental justice, they may have a directory, if you contact the region they may know folks to connect you with, and many statewide environmental agencies also keep a running list of groups who are doing advocacy work or education work in the community. If they can’t find that then Google is probably your best bet.
JEN: Eirin showed a slide that had a picture of community members taking an air sample. How did “Bucket Brigade,” something that’s been done in Michigan, get received by the state regulators?
ERIN: Sure. Surprisingly, it was actually very well-received here. Our initial Bucket Brigade showed very very high levels of benzene and formaldehyde. We’re lucky that we had really great people at DEC, our state agency, who saw that and had the initiative to go out after EPA air quality funding to be able to do a year-long air quality study in Tonawanda. That ended up confirming what the buckets had shown years before. So we were lucky that we had some strong advocates within the agency that received it pretty well. Any agency is not monolithic and so I’m sure that there was not complete agreement on that but we were lucky enough that those bucket samples did spur pretty substantial action by the state agency here.
JEN: The follow-up to that, was there side-by-side sampling, community sampling and state regulators, and a comparison made?
EIRIN: We did not continue to sample once the four air quality monitors were put up in the neighborhood for that year. There was a year-long study period throughout 2008. Throughout that time, the community was not also taking air samples. They were doing lots of other things, they were continuing to call in opacity violations and make odor complaints but that was not being done. Today, two of the four monitors are still up and running in the community and are taking air samples and that information is available to the community. We do have buckets in several of our members’ neighborhoods to be able to take air samples in case there are emergencies or accidents at the plants, and there’s something out of the ordinary and people want to know what they’re being exposed to right in their houses. So we do use both kinds of data, the formal monitoring results, and the bucket samples as well.
JEN: Can you elaborate more on the use of oral histories?
ERIN: We did a project about two years ago in Tonawanda where we worked with a local college and the University of Buffalo to train community members to interview one another about what it’s like to live in a neighborhood that is highly, highly industrialized and how that impacts people’s health and their quality of life. We paired up researchers with community members to go out and ask very open-ended questions to folks. We ask questions like, where do the smells and odors tend to come from? And then we just ask people about their lives, what is it like to live in an area with so much pollution, do you have uncertainty? Really open-ended questions and we got some great responses. We interviewed about 35 people and the results were transcribed and turned into a short report. That’s something that we often pair with TRI information. So we’re showing what the hard data looks like on the ground in people’s neighborhoods.
JEN: What is the response from industries that are targeted?
ERIN: It depends. Our experience has been it depends on the company. Some companies have dug in their heels and not wanted to change until there was really really significant pressure from EPA and in our case the DEC. Other companies, some companies don’t know or aren’t paying attention to it so when you bring them the data they may be willing to sit down and negotiate a good neighbor agreement with the community. So, it depends on the leadership of the company, it depends on whether the company decides they have the money to make the investment, it depends company by company.
JEN: How closely did your organization work with your LEPC?
ERIN: An LEPC is a local emergency planning committee. These were established right around the time that TRI was established. The idea was to have local committees of folks planning, preventing, and responding to local chemical disasters in neighborhoods. When there were accidents, to make sure that they were being protected. So we worked a little bit with our LEPC, we’re working to get more community participation on that, unfortunately a lot of communities the LEPCs are unfunded and so they don’t have a lot of resources to do the really good work that they could do. So you tend to see a lot of folks from government on them, you sometimes see a lot of folks from industry. In our community there were hardly any residents on our LEPC even though there were 80 members. So we’ve worked to get more residents on the LEPC here and we’ve had several meetings to get communities’ desires into emergency response plans. To make sure everyone is getting phone calls and text messages when there are chemical emergencies so that people know what they’re being exposed to. We’re involving the community in trying to help establish a set of criteria when members of the public might get evacuated. We think at our organization that policy gets improved when you have real people on the ground who are in the neighborhoods as part of that discussion. So we are pushing the LEPC in our neighborhood to be a little bit more community-based.
JEN: We’ve heard several points about companies “doing the right thing” and “change their behavior.” Our experience is that employees of the companies have their families in the areas as well and have the same concerns for potential exposure. In your community engagement model, how do you engage companies to explain their data in a manner that does not include emotion as you describe? For example, the top ten largest may not be the most toxic, and therefore allow those companies an opportunity to engage in a friendly way.
ERIN: It depends on the local situation. One of the roles that our organization plays is to act as an intermediary though our membership is made up from people that live in the community. We’ve also been able to pair up with folks from the local university to help explain some of those nuances. You’ve got to start somewhere and it’s important to get information out even if everyone doesn’t understand every nuance from the beginning. But you know some of the things that we’ve done before engaging with a company is hosting educational sessions that are internal such as bringing in someone from the School of Public Health at the University of Buffalo to explain toxicity and risk based on the TRI data. Having internal meetings so when our members go in to negotiate with companies, they’re really well-prepared, they have a sound understanding of the nuances that can be found inside TRI. It’s placing a lot of emphasis on planning and getting ready to negotiate with the company and not just going in with raw data. Putting it in context before you start those negotiations. It’s really easy for companies to dismiss communities when they’re not as prepared as they possibly could be by partnering up with a local university or another scientific expert.
LILY: To add something about workers, one of the community groups we’ve worked with has said that workers are concerned about what are the chemicals that are in this facility that I’m in every day, and we do have one example of a local government that had let workers know about some of the chemicals through TRI and so they were actually able to take that information when they went to go in their bargaining sessions to renew their contracts with the facility, so just wanted to mention that as another possible use of TRI data.
ERIN: We’ve done that as well. Another resource that may be able to help communities get ready to have conversations with companies is many unions or worker groups do have health and safety committees and they have a technical expert on hand to help explain some of the health impacts or lack of health impacts that certain chemicals may cause. So that’s another resource.
JEN: Some of the compounds Erin mentioned are products of combustion. Does Erin’s coalition account for car emissions and heating for homes?
ERIN: One of the great things about the New York State DEC’s and EPA’s air quality study in the town of Tonawanda was that it took into account wind patterns so they were able to sort out approximate percentages of what was coming from industrial facilities versus coming from one of the two highways in Tonawanda that intersect the industrial neighborhood and so they were able to actually parse out what was coming from what. That was really important because when we take bucket samples that’s a three minute snapshot of what’s in the air and you’re not able to identify a source. So we’re lucky, our community has fought to keep those monitors up and running, because it is more sophisticated and we can parse out what’s coming from industry versus mobile sources.
JEN: This question is about health. Were there any doctors or medical professionals who did the survey to ask specifically about health?
ERIN: The oral history project, I’m guessing this person is referring to? Our intention with that project was less to find a cause to why people were sick or do any kind of epidemiological study. We’re working with the NY State Department of Health to produce a epidemiological study to look at cancer rates and birth rate outcomes to update the study that I referenced in the beginning of my presentation. We have not done any kind of health survey in that sense. Lots of anecdotal evidence but our organization is pretty small and we just don’t have the capacity to do a full-on health study. So we have partnered with universities and agencies that have many more resources than we do to work on the health stuff. We have worked with professionals at the UB School of Public Health and many nursing programs at universities to help through educational programming on the potential health outcomes of many of the compounds that we see in the air in Tonawanda but nothing as specific as a health survey.
JEN: Thank you everybody for submitting these questions, they are really great, keep them coming. We will have a second and slightly longer Q&A session after our last presentation. Erin, did you pay community members to conduct the histories? Who transcribed them? What was your funding source?
ERIN: We did not pay community members. We did for this project go through the IRB, the Institutional Review Board, at the University of Buffalo, so everyone’s identity was protected and we went through best practices in terms of human subjects but we did not pay community members. Our members have done all of this without pay. We had a transcription team, they all had to go through training and be written into the IRB application, it was mostly graduate students that transcribed everything. This was not a funded project. It was something we did on our own using grassroots income that we raised through membership dues, special events, things like that. So it did not come from a foundation or a government source. It was something that the community really wanted to do and so they fundraised to support the project.
JEN: Ok I’m going to end the First Q&A session here so we can stay on time and kick things back over to Lily for today’s third presentation.
(49:19) LILY: Before I get into what I had prepared, I wanted to add a few more pieces of information to help respond to some of the questions that we just had. Someone asked about how to find out about groups near them, Erin said to call your US EPA Environmental Justice Hotline. We have programs in all of the ten regions of the US, here is the master number that you can call, that’s toll-free, and they can connect you to the office that’s closest to you. If you speak Spanish they can help find somebody to translate for you. That is 1-800-962-6215.
The other thing that I wanted to follow up on is someone asked about cars and trucks. It’s true that US EPA the TRI program does not give you information about risks from there but I wanted to the US EPA also has something called the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) and if you go to epa.gov and type in NATA you can get to this website. It does have a place where you can click to watch videos. EPA staff will walk you through how to get information about what kinds of risks might be near you that could come from not just TRI-type facilities but also in addition cars and trucks. Third, you just asked about money for doing some of the work you want to do and so I wanted to let you know that there’s an Environmental Justice Grants Program that does fund community groups and the deadline for applying is January 7th, 2013. So I don’t have all the information up. There’s a webinar next Wednesday that will allow you to learn more about this program.
(51:35) Let me switch gears to the original prepared information. I hope Erin’s presentation has whetted your appetite to learn more about TRI. The types of facilities that are required to report to the TRI are a broad range. On the slide here you’ll see examples. Examples are manufacturing, electricity generation, certain mining facilities, hazardous waste management, and federal facilities. Not all of these facilities; we’re looking for the somewhat larger facilities that have at least ten or more employees and also facilities that, to get to technical kind of language, facilities that process, manufacture, or otherwise use more than a certain amount of a TRI chemical per year. TRI requires reporting of over 600 chemicals. Some chemicals are more toxic than others. For some of the more toxic ones, like dioxin or mercury or lead, we have a tighter amount. Even if someone is using 100 lbs of lead per year, they still have to report it because it is just so much more toxic than some of the other chemicals, just to give an example.
What kind of information do facilities report? I already talked about the kind of releases you’re probably used to thinking about; releases to air, water, and land. But we also have a category called “offsite” which means that they might be putting some toxic chemicals on a truck or train and moving them to say a very large landfill somewhere that could be very far away. That information can be separated out if you’re interested in seeing the difference between those numbers. Finally, the TRI does give information about what people are doing with those toxics. Are they recycling? Treating? Using them for energy recovery, which means taking it and burning it and using it for fuel? Also, what might they be doing for pollution prevention? Now this last thing has been very much desired by community groups, lately we’ve been hearing from them that they know there are releases near them, what can we do to prevent that pollution? Many companies do report, optionally, on TRI this is what we’ve done for pollution prevention. That information is already available. EPA is working hard because of the community interest to make it easier for any member of the public to compare what’s being done at the facility near them with what other similar facilities around the country might be doing. So you could find out some other state, another facility’s doing this or that for pollution prevention. So stay tuned for coming attractions.
So we already had a lot of questions about the numbers not really being able to tell you how much danger somebody might be in. We’ve heard from Erin for example that if an individual person is larger versus smaller, then the amount of risk that they suffer from the same exposure could be different. There are other reasons why your safety may not be discernible just from a number. Most people think a bigger number means it’s less safe. It depends. We talked about different toxicities of chemicals and also another factor is how is the chemical getting to a person? Is it in the air and you’re breathing it? Or is it contained in some kind of a sealed tank which might be just in the backyard of this facility and not necessarily getting to where you or I could eat, drink, or breathe it? Also is it going out into the environment every single day all day long, or once a year just a little bit? Those are some of the things that could affect how safe you are. The number doesn’t necessarily tell you the answer. But it’s a first screening level of understanding that can get people interested in exploring more. But understand that there are many other factors.
In addition we talked a little about the limits of what TRI can tell you, and thanks very much to Erin for saying that TRI is not a silver bullet, it’s true. The data, as Cory had said, are only collected once a year. There are some industrial sectors it does not cover. It does not cover small facilities, which in some places could be a bigger deal than bigger facilities if they’re near you but we may not have information about that. So TRI does cover over 600 chemicals but it doesn’t cover all toxic chemicals. We talked about the fact that it doesn’t cover cars and trucks. It doesn’t tell you how long or how often a chemical has been released. You can get more information on this on our website, we have a new webpage epa.gov/tri and if you go to the lower right hand side of that screen you can click on “communities” and get more information in that way. But we have a handout that goes into more detail about what factors you may want to consider in trying to interpret this information.
Those are all the caveats and the fine print. I know that many of you are probably eager to see what’s going on in my community. So we have a handy website that’s called My Right to Know. There’s other tools too but this is one that people often like to go to first. So My Right to Know is abbreviated http://myrtk.epa.gov/info. If you go to that website you can type in where you are, by state, city, address, or zip code. Click “Find facilities.” You can also download this app if you have a smartphone. That way if you’re walking around and you say, hey I smell something, or see something near me, I wonder what that is. Here’s an example of what might spit out. You’ll see a map that shows TRI facilities that are near whatever address you typed in. If you click on a balloon it will show you more information about what’s located there. If you click further, you can get exactly what amount of chemicals that is reported and you can also get information if they’ve had enforcement action against them by US EPA recently. There’s also information if you see a chemical name and you want to know what this chemical might do to me, so you can get information about health effects too. So hopefully that’s something that you’ll be excited to go back and do after this presentation and find out what’s near you.
So, just to repeat what Erin had already said. TRI is only one piece of the puzzle. There’s a lot of other kinds of sources that TRI doesn’t cover. Hopefully this will help get you some information and to make sure that you get access to other kinds of information we also wanted to let you know about another resource called My Environment. This does include TRI information and it also includes a lot of other information from US EPA about environmental conditions that you may be interested in. Data is only as good as what you use it for. Erin has talked about ways that she’s used it and has done a lot of things that are listed in this slide such as talking with her local government and environmental officials as well as the industrial facilities and then talked a little bit about the pollution prevention push and TRI providing information that could be useful for that. I also mentioned before you could get information about enforcement actions against the facility, but if you want to just go straight there we have we have an Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database. You can find out when’s the last inspection that was done and how the facility has been doing, if there’s been any recent enforcement actions against it and if you think that there’s something fishy going on at a facility then EPA has a website which is epa.gov/tips where you can type in, and this can be anonymous if you feel more comfortable doing that, report of a violation, and then somebody will follow up on it. To conclude, I’ll go back to where we started, which is some questions that people such as yourself might have and the kind of answers that TRI might be able to give you. It could tell you what amounts of pollution, the amount of increases or decreases in pollution near you, it could tell you more about what facilities are near you, what the greatest quantities might be, and so I hope this is something that you’ll be interested to look into TRI more and explore.
That’s what I had prepared to share with everyone. I next wanted to hand the floor over to Shelley Fudge. Shelley is going to talk about what EPA is doing to get TRI into the hands of community members such as yourself to use it. So she is in the Office of Environmental Information, and she is the lead staffer on our Community Engagement Initiative, which includes our pilots project in which we’ve worked with groups such as Erin’s in the past. She comes with broader experience that she brings to this work, including in the community-based ecosystem protection program, aquatic habitat protection, working on concentrated animal feeding operations, climate change, energy efficiency, in our waste programs and underground storage tanks and so we’re lucky to have that breadth of perspective from Shelley and with that let me hand things over.
SHELLEY: Thanks very much, I really appreciate it Lily. We wanted to give you a little bit of an overview of our new Community Engagement Initiative which we just launched this past year in two parts. So we first started out doing an inventory of the types of community-oriented materials that we’ve produced in the past. We realized we need to do a lot more to raise awareness and to make our information more useful and accessible for communities so we decided to embark on a new pilots project. The goal of the project was to increase pollution prevention achievements, improve environmental compliance, and/or improve TRI data quality. We selected four pilots for the project. One of them was Tonawanda New York. That’s Erin’s group, the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York. There were three more, we had one in south Philadelphia Pennsylvania, one in North Birmingham Alabama, and another one in Jurupa Valley California.
For each of these pilots, we provided an introduction to TRI and we provided hands-on computer training. We are not able to do that in this particular webinar today, however, we are planning to do another follow-up webinar where we’re going to do that and get into more nitty gritty and into a train the trainer type of a webinar for folks that are interested in that. As part of the webinars, we were able to produce materials that were used for each of them and I’m going to get back to that a little more later. We tested out new community-based approaches. We were able to do these a very different one for each of the pilots which made it a wonderful way for us to figure out what are the types of approaches that might work best for communities. One of those was a pollution prevention study from North Birmingham Alabama. Another one was the community assessment that was done for Tonawanda. Another one in South Philadelphia was a map of sensitive population sites and pairing that with the location of TRI facilities and another one is called a photo novella and that is an innovative way to communicate information in Spanish in a comic book type of format but it uses photographs instead of drawings. I want to emphasize that these are still not complete, once they are complete, and we expect them to be complete by the end of this fiscal year, we will make them available on the TRI website. We are now in the process of making recommendations that will be used for developing and expanding upon these pilots and ensuring that we can make our community engagement efforts even better. As far as Spanish language availability, several folks have brought my My RTK, that’s available in Spanish so we think that’s a very good asset for communities.
This is an example of something that we created as one of the handouts that were developed for the pilots. This is very close to being available we will make that available on the website for TRI very soon and it is, provides a snapshot, in other words it shows a map of the community that highlights the TRI facilities that are located there and provides a trends chart that shows how the TRI releases have changed over time whether they’ve increased or decreased and it compares it to the number of facilities that are located in the community and whether those number of facilities have gone up or down. It also gives an indication of the total chemicals that have been released by TRI facilities and also a bit about the cancer-causing chemicals that are released in the community. So, I’d like to go over the highlights and what we’ve learned from these pilots. We’ve learned that communities use TRI information for lots of various ways. One of those is to assess and target local environmental problems, it’s also being used to address local zoning issues, and to highlight and increase local pollution prevention. Community members have different levels of computer skills. We call it the digital divide because there are still people out there that either have very limited skills or very limited access to computers or internet access and we want to be sensitive to that. So we’re trying to now do the best we can to make material not only available electronically online but to make sure there are going to be materials that can be produced in hard copy. That was something we didn’t have available in the past and we’re going to be doing a better job of that. We also recognize that we need to make the material as easy to understand as possible and to make sure that we’re combining a number of techniques to do that. So in fact almost all the things you heard Erin talk about. We want to make sure we’re using interactive techniques and storytelling we’re making sure that things are available for handouts. We want to make sure that there’s training for how to use our data online. In the process, we believe that the pilots have been successful in demonstrating that TRI can open the eyes of communities about things that they may not have known about otherwise. We find that so often there are one or two facilities in an area that are particularly onerous, that the community is very upset about. Sometimes the communities aren’t aware of the other factors that are taking place that contribute to that. And they also may not be aware of the releases by other facilities that either contribute to those larger releases or in fact could even release more pollution than the one that they’re most focused on. And we found that to be the case, for instance, in one of our pilot communities.
So basically we want to emphasize that hands-on computer training is important. We’re going to be following up as I mentioned earlier with some hands-on training in another webinar, not exactly sure when that will be but look out for announcements, probably late winter or early spring. With that I’ll turn things back to Jen, we’ll have another Q&A session, we are very interested in hearing from you and will address anything that we can to help you out.
JEN: Shelley thanks so much for that overview of the Community Engagement Initiative. I’d like to move right into the second of our 2 Q&A sessions today. We’ll kick off with this question: Do TRI reports include the US territories such as Guam and Puerto Rico? Also, are there similar tools that examine toxic releases in other countries?
CORY: TRI does include Guam and Puerto Rico. There are facilities that report to TRI from both of those areas. Basically everything within customs territory of the US is under requirement to report to TRI. In addition, there are similar programs internationally that are comparable to TRI. In the international community they are known as PRTRs, or Pollution Release and Transfer Registries, there are similar programs in many countries including Canada and Mexico, and we regularly share our information with Canada and Mexico to get a whole comprehensive picture of North America. So yeah there are similar programs and we do assist other countries when they come to us to set up PRTR type programs that are similar to TRI.
LILY: I wanted to add that we also have reports from American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, in fact in the last few weeks we’ve had information workshops about the TRI in Taipan and Guam. In addition, the office that I’m in, we do US-Mexico border fact sheets that are on our website and we’ve presented those at the US-Mexico border meetings in which we’ve met with government officials from Mexico and they’ve been interested to see our information.
ERIN: One last resource is there are many countries that are just setting up these programs for the first time and just trying to figure out these questions that we answered a long time ago in the states and a great website the United Nations Institute on Training and Research, they support countries all over the world that are trying to get these programs up and running in their countries and they have an overview of the countries that are working on setting these up abroad.
JEN: Does the TRI website contain the TRI tools to create the Tonawanda graph, showing the tracking releases over time, or does TRI just provide the data and the coalition have to do a lot of data manipulation to clean up and create that graph?
SHELLEY: In fact, that particular graph there is part of that that can be accessed and produced by using current tools that we have now. However, not exactly like that was done. In fact, one of the things that we’re going to do as a result of the pilots is that we’re going to automate that more so it will be even easier to produce those kinds of graphs and charts.
LILY: Also, if you go to Envirofacts, that is another way to access TRI data, if you look at a particular facility and call up information on there, there is a button you can click and it will spit out trends over time for that particular facility, how much it’s released, what kinds of chemicals, so that is already automatic. So if you go to epa.gov/tri and the left side there’s a data and tools button, and you click and go to Envirofacts, you can get that automatically too.
JEN: Great. Where can we learn more about what good neighbor agreements are?
ERIN: There’s a national organization that works to help communities broker good neighbor agreements. They are the Center for Health Environment and Justice. If you hop on their website they have supported hundreds of community groups across the country to broker good neighbor agreements. In many communities, once communities have come together to identify a challenge with a company in their neighborhood, often you don’t go running to the government first with a problem you try to sit down with the company and share what you concerns are. In many communities, we’ve been able to sit down with people from the community and people that work or own the plant and share their concerns, have a constructive dialogue, and come to an agreement about investments that the company might make to help reduce toxic emissions in the neighborhood. So there’s lots of resources online, google good neighbor agreement and you’ll find lots of resources on that, and the Center for Health Environment and Justice has supported many community groups doing that.
JEN: Have you identified instances where you have found a company that was already doing the right thing without you prompting them and then that company has stood as an advocate for those companies in the local media?
ERIN: So far we are still looking. There are a couple of smaller facilities inside the City of Buffalo, Tonawanda is actually the first suburb north of Buffalo, and so we found several companies right outside Tonawanda that are doing the right thing and that are supportive of the organization. In Tonawanda we are still looking for champions, for companies that are doing the right thing. And we’re also trying to find ways to make it easier for them to do the right thing. We are working with the NY State Pollution Prevention Institute locally to try to get engineers into the facilities to identify ways to phase out some of the more toxic chemicals that are found inside the companies and in the processes. So far we are still looking for a champion in Tonawanda.
JEN: When will additional toxic chemicals be added to the TRI list? There are over 80,000 chemicals not on the TRI list that appear to be closely related to the current 600+.
CORY: We did just do another round of chemical addition recently that will be reported for the first time next year. Those include 16 chemicals from the National Toxicology Program as well as removing a stay on reporting for hydrogen sulfide so those chemicals, hydrogen sulfide was previously on there it will be reported now and 16 new chemicals will be reported. There’s a very distinct criteria laid out for when a chemical can be added to the TRI list in the EPCRA section 313. We do regularly work with other programs within EPA that do toxic assessments to continually look at new and emerging chemicals that might meet the TRI threshold requirements for being listed under the TRI. In addition there is a provision within EPCRA 313 that EPA may be petitioned to add chemicals to the TRI reporting list. We are able to receive petitions for chemicals that people think might need to be added to the list and we do review those and respond to those.
JEN: Does the TRI include anything about cumulative impacts of chemicals that may be impacting local communities or certain sensitive individuals?
STEVEN DAVITO (TRI PROGRAM): We currently do not have any tools that can assess cumulative impact or cumulative risks from multiple chemical releases. We just don’t have that capability yet.
JEN: There are only a few TRI facilities in Indian country, but, is there any type of outreach being planned for tribal governments? The example of the comic book or fotonovela that Shelley mentioned comes to mind.
CORY: Recently the TRI program promulgated a regulation regarding facilities within Indian country. Those tribal governments that do have TRI-reporting facilities will be receiving those reports directly from now on. Previously the reports had gone to the state, now they will be going directly to the tribal government in addition to being reported to EPA. As part of that we have done outreach to the tribal communities and tribal leadership to make them aware of what it is that they’ll be receiving and we will continue to find ways to help make that information available to the local tribal government.
JEN: How do you find the list of TRI chemicals and how often are these required to be reported?
CORY: The list of TRI chemicals are available at www.epa.gov/tri there is a sidebar tab that says chemicals and you can find the list of chemicals there and TRI is an annual report so reports are due July 1st of each year for the previous year. So in essence, during the year 2012 facilities have been collecting information on releases and waste management at the facilities and they’ll report that information to EPA and the TRI program on July 1st 2013.
JEN: What are the 16 new chemicals? Are they highlighted somehow in the list of TRI chemicals?
CORY: Those are also available at the website. We have a list of new regulations that are on the website and you can find that list on the website, epa.gov/tri. You will see a regulations tab and you can go there and look up that regulation.
JEN: Are TRI data available through programs like EPA’s BASIN and if so can you talk about the frequency of updates between the various programs that distribute TRI data?
CORY: Primarily, TRI data is available on the EPA website through Envirofacts and TRI Explorer and My RTK. We do have additional downloadable tool known as TRI.net that is available as well. Where possible, we have developed some other data tools that do compare TRI data. Recently there’s a DMR tool, discharge monitoring report tool, that compares TRI data to DMR data. We also have a comparative query tool that is available on the TRI website that matches up TRI data with data from the Office of Solid Waste, OSW. We do regularly work with other programs to integrate our data sets with theirs, do comparisons of the data reporting as a data quality check, so we are trying to link our data with other data, TRI data is also available from Data.gov which is a big federal website that seeks to make available all data across the federal government. The National Library of Medicine also makes TRI data available. And the ToxMap tool. In addition, some of the states and regions make TRI data available to varying degrees.
JEN: Is there any training for manufacturing companies to assist in reporting TRI?
CORY: There is. We provide a Powerpoint presentation with audio that advances itself on our website, there’s a beginner module and an advanced module that manufacturing facilities can go and get the basics and more advanced view of TRI reporting to help them understand what their reporting requirements are and how to do that. In addition we have various guidance materials available on our website, we have some videos for how to use our reporting system, we have an electronic reporting system know as Toxics Release Inventory Made EZ Web, or TRI-ME Web, to help out with that. Some of the regions still conduct in-person classroom type training that varies from region to region. But the main training that TRI EPA HQ provides is available from our website in the form of automated Powerpoint presentations with audio.
JEN: These last few slides contain some important contact information and resources. Many of these are websites that you heard mentioned throughout the presentation today. This presentation will be available on the Chemical Right to Know website, so you can flip through this Powerpoint presentation yourself or just listen to the whole webcast again. We also have a list of our EPA Regional TRI coordinators. These are the folks on the ground. They are taking questions from the public every day about TRI and are an extremely valuable resource, and this information is also available on the TRI website. You can contact any of the three of us here about the webinar itself, Brian, Christine, or myself, you can let us know what we can do better for you next time.
Thanks presenters, Lily, Erin, and Shelley, and thanks Attendees, particularly those in bad weather. Do take the time to do our very short poll so we can get your feedback on what we can do better next time or what you enjoyed.
Have a wonderful afternoon! Please join us for future TRI webinars.