People often react, "It doesn't make sense — this many toxics aren't allowed!"

Yes, they are.

The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is the USA's top right-to-know law.

It does not impose mandatory pollution controls.

It simply requires a report of estimated levels for ~650 chemical compounds.

That covers less than 1% of the chemicals commonly used.

The report can be based on federally approved averages instead of actual testing.

The difference between estimate and reality can turn out to be quite large.

The EPA does requires strict TRI reporting for almost 20 persistent bioaccumulative toxic (PBT) chemicals because of their greater hazards.

Manufacturers and users of only 100 pounds, sometimes much less, must report all pollution and disposal.

For the other chemicals — and until 2007 — TRI reports were only required for sites that

• handle at least 10,000 pounds per year of a listed chemical

• OR manufacture at least 25,000 pounds of it

• AND discharge or dispose of at least 500 pounds of the chemical per year

In December 2006 the threshold for discharge or disposal was relaxed from 500 pounds to 2000 pounds.

That extra 1500 pounds adds up dramatically when all sources are considered.

Also, companies are no longer required to report on PBTs if it can be shown they do not reach the environment.

The changes in TRI reporting were not based on scientific or health data, they were made to reduce the burden on businesses and the EPA.

EPA officials claimed the TRI changes would reduce regulatory burdens on businesses across the country, saving money while encouraging companies to better control or recycle toxic chemicals.

But in the absence of public scrutiny, there is no incentive for most companies to make changes that improve their pollution controls.

99.97% of 120,000+ comments received by EPA opposed the plan including a July 2006 letter by the EPA's own scientific advisory board opposing the changes.

The letter expressed concern that weaker report requirements will "hinder the advances of environmental research used to protect public health and the environment."

In California the changes allow nearly 600,000 pounds of toxic chemicals to be released without public disclosure.

Beyond California, 1 out of 10 communities lose all numeric data on toxic chemicals.

Some states lose over half of all currently reported information on toxic chemicals.

12 states are suing the EPA over the changes.

In October 2007 California passed legislation to restore the former thresholds within that state.

Federal legislation to restore the TRI program (H.R. 1055 and S. 595) are in progress.

Even if the original thresholds are someday restored nationwide, the combined sum of chemicals that still go unreported is dramatic especially in light of emerging toxic body burden studies.

The approximately 650 chemicals represent less than 1% of the 75,000+ chemicals registered for use in the U.S.

Bottom line — the TRI does not regulate the amount of toxics released.

It simply affects what kind of data people can gather about toxic releases.

An analysis of TRI data for 2004 spells out the implication of toxic releases:

~38 million pounds of chemicals linked to reproductive disorders

~70 million pounds of recognized carcinogens

~96 million pounds of chemicals linked to developmental problems (such as birth defects and learning disabilities)

~826 million pounds of suspected neurological toxicants

~1.5 billion pounds of suspected respiratory toxicants

2,631 grams of dioxins — some of the most dangerous substances known to science

An exploratory study has demonstrated what may seem like common sense.

A child is significantly more likely to develop brain cancer before 5 years of age if living within a mile of a TRI reporting facility.

This document compares governmental policies that govern industrial chemicals in the United States, Canada, and European Union (REACH).

Toxic release is a problem for all nations.

This brief video documents leather tanneries in Bangladesh.