Risks from toxic releases

This indicator tracks the relative risks to humans from toxic releases from industrial activities in Washington.

Why should we be concerned about toxic releases?

The amount of toxic chemicals released represents potential risk to human health and the environment. Toxic chemicals can cause cancer, birth defects and other health problems. Releases of toxic chemicals threaten the health of our air, soil and water.

Reducing the amount of toxic releases:

  • Reduces risks to human health.
  • Improves the quality of our air, land and water.
  • Liability and other costs associated with manufacturing and handling hazardous chemicals are often reduced when businesses use less toxic chemicals or reduce the amount used.

How do you measure the effect of toxic releases?

Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data and Risk Screening Environmental Indicator (RSEI) scores can help identify priorities and opportunities to work with industry and others to reduce releases of toxic chemicals and the potential risks associated with them. The federal Environmental Protection Agency developed the RSEI to prioritize toxic releases that might be of public health concern. Whether a toxic chemical causes harm depends on many factors, but includes the amount a person is exposed to and the toxicity of the chemical.

The RSEI takes the pounds of toxics emitted to the environment, analyzes their toxicity and risk to humans, and ranks their potential risk relative to other TRI releases.

Toxic release risks from manufacturers 1996 - 2010. View our toxic release from manufacturers data

The RSEI model uses information provided by the TRI. The TRI is a national database with information about toxic chemicals manufactured and used at certain industrial and federal facilities, and releases of those chemicals to air, land, and water. Washington's RSEI scores show that risks from toxic chemical releases continue to decrease. This is good news!

The newest RSEI model (version 2.3.1) added three years to the dataset. This made the 2010 TRI data the most recent available for RSEI modeling.

What does the RSEI risk score tell us?

RSEI risk scores provide an important perspective for viewing TRI releases in Washington. Washington's TRI releases to water and air in terms of total pounds released (as seen in the graph below) show a general downward trend. There are slight increases in both air and water releases beginning in 2009. Yet the RSEI model demonstrates that although releases to air and water increased, the risk to human health from the release of these chemicals went down.

Water and air releases reported under Washington's Toxic Release Inventory, 1996 - 2011. 

There are several possible explanations for how TRI pounds could go up while RSEI risk scores went down. The facility releasing a large amount of TRI chemicals could be located in a less-populated area. RSEI risk scores are calculated, in part, by the population density around a chemical release. Another possibility is that facilities are using safer chemicals instead of more toxic ones. Although the amounts of toxic chemicals have increased, the risk from exposure to these chemicals is lower.

The table below shows the top ten TRI chemicals with the most reduction in RSEI risk scores between 2007 and 2010. They are ranked by their RSEI score. Chromium and chromium compounds, both persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic chemicals, top the list for the greatest reductions in risk score between 2007 and 2010. To view the complete list click on the link below the table.

Top Ten TRI Chemicals Showing a Reduction in RSEI Score: 2007-2010
TRI Chemical Name RSEI Risk Score 2007 RSEI Risk Score 2010 Reduction in RSEI Score 2007 - 2010
Chromium and chromium compounds 3,781,696 535,890 3,245,806
Polycyclic aromatic compounds 128,975 18,882 110,093
Trichloroethylene 99,485 4,672 94,813
Formaldehyde 102,320 52,596 49,724
Nickel and nickel compounds 152,745 122,661 30,084
Manganese and manganese compounds 43,419 20,394 23,025
Chloroform 171,114 154,579 16,535
Acetaldehyde 46,635 30,981 15,654
Sulfuric acid 8,848 4,027 4,821
Diisocyanates 5,643 972 4,671

Complete list of TRI Chemicals showing a reduction in RSEI score

The table below shows the top ten TRI chemicals with the greatest increase in RSEI risk scores between 2007 and 2010. To view the complete list click on the link below the table.
Top Ten TRI Chemicals Showing an Increase in RSEI Score: 2007 - 2010
TRI Chemical Name RSEI Risk Score 2007 RSEI Risk Score 2010 Increase in RSEI Score 2007 - 2010
Benzene 18,684 21,548 2,864
Arsenic and arsenic compounds 11 1,179 1,168
Copper and copper compounds 901 1,906 1,005
Cobalt and cobalt compounds 5,898 6,833 935
Cadmium and cadmium compounds 20 950 930
Hydrochloric acid 3,441 3,900 459
1.2-Dichloroethane 2,332 2,705 373
Acrylamide 520 700 180
Lead and lead compounds 2,642 2,757 115
Carbonyl sulfide 1,014 1,106 92

Complete list of TRI chemicals showing an increase in RSEI score

What are some actions being taken to decrease risks from toxic releases?

  • Providing technical assistance to businesses to help them reduce their use of toxic materials.
  • Working with Washington businesses to incorporate lean manufacturing techniques into their processes.
  • Researching alternatives to chemicals that are highly toxic.