Cook Inlet tops toxic list

Posted: Thursday, June 24, 2004

Cook Inlet led all of Alaska in nonmining, manufacturing-related toxic discharges in 2002, according to the latest Toxics Release Inventory issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In a press release announcing the report Wednesday, the Homer-based environmental organization Cook Inlet Keeper said the EPA report showed more than 1.9 million pounds of pollution were released to the region's land, air and water that year.

Large as that figure was, because of reporting limitations, it did not include billions of gallons of toxic production and drilling wastes from the inlet's oil and gas production operations, Keeper Director Bob Shavelson said.

The annual reports track the amounts and types of toxic chemicals discharged from various industrial facilities.

"Alaska ranked fourth nationwide for toxic releases, largely due to high toxic waste figures from the state's mining industry," Shavelson said.

Overall, Alaska industries reported the discharge of more than 547 million pounds of toxic chemicals to air, land and water.

According to EPA data, Agrium's Nikiski fertilizer plant led all Alaska manufacturing facilities with toxic releases comprised largely of ammonia totaling 1.77 million pounds, Shavelson said. The Tesoro refinery in Nikiski released 96,706 pounds, including more than 50,000 pounds of cancer-causing chemicals. Kenai Pipeline reported more than 16,000 pounds of toxic releases and Fort Richardson reported more than 9,000 pounds of lead releases.

"The TRI helps citizens learn about toxic chemicals in their communities, and it has motivated various industries to decrease their toxic emissions," Shavelson said. "Yet these TRI reports are only a small fraction of the actual toxic discharges to Cook Inlet."

Beyond the unaccounted-for releases from oil and gas production, polluted runoff from sewage treatment plants also is not included in the annual release inventories.

According to Shavelson, under the federal program, nearly 25,000 factories, refineries, mines, power plants and chemical manufacturers self-report to EPA emissions of toxic pollution to air, water and land.

Excluding metal mining, industries nationwide reported 4.79 billion pounds of toxic chemical releases in 2002, an increase of 5 percent from the prior year.

Most report amounts to estimates by the industries themselves, rather than actual monitoring, Shavelson said, adding that a new report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) notes that "systematic underreporting" of TRI releases has led to artificially low figures for toxic emissions.

The EIP is a nonprofit organization established in March 2002 to advocate for more effective enforcement of environmental laws. It was founded by Erick Schaeffer, former director of the EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement, following his resignation from the EPA after publicly expressing his frustration with efforts of the Bush Administration to weaken enforcement of the Clean Air Act and other laws.

The latest and past Toxic Release Inventory reports may be viewed at www.epa.gov/tri.



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