The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a program called Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) that requires mostly larger industries to report their toxic chemical discharges. The data are publicly accessible (https://www.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program) as part of a citizen’s right to know about pollution released into air, water and the ground. Currently, there are 787 hazardous chemicals monitored by the TRI program; this year, nine PFAS compounds have been added.
A search of the toxic emissions of a 10-mile radius around East Chicago, Indiana located 110 facilities that reported emissions of 160 different chemicals over the years 2012-2021. A closer search in this vicinity shows that USS Gary Works steel mill reported over 220 million pounds of chemical releases over these years. Most were land releases (over 192 million pounds) and nearly 5 million pounds of toxins were released into the air. The highest releases were zinc and manganese metals and compounds, followed by nitrate, and chromium and lead metal and compounds. The major air contaminants were ammonia and hydrochloric acid and nitrate was the main contaminant released into water.
The TRI program also identifies whether or not emitters have complied within the lawful limits. For USS Gary Works, the status of the last compliance monitoring in July 2022 was denoted as a “High Priority Violation” of the Clean Air Act for 12 of 12 quarters. The report shows the penalty from formal enforcement actions (5 years) as $191,773. The company also violated the Clean Water Act and the RCRA statute for additional fines of $189,400 and $36,300, respectively. It is noteworthy that the reported profits for this company in 2022 were $2.52 billion, down from its record profits in 2021 of $4.17 billion.
According to the EPA’s website, “in establishing an appropriate penalty, EPA considers such factors as the economic benefit associated with the violations, the gravity or seriousness of the violations, and prior history of violations.”
Julie Peller, Ph.D., is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ). Julie has been writing a weekly column for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), and student and citizen participation in environmental work.