Chances are if you ever picked up your local newspaper and saw a report about the toxic junk spewing out of the factory or power plant down the road, it was made possible by the Toxic Release Inventory, a public online database maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency that includes information about many toxic chemicals released by industry.
Since its inception, as part of the 1986 Right to Know Act, rates of pollution tracked by the database have largely decreased. That's partly due to new rules restricting the use of certain chemicals, partly due to the decline in manufacturing, and partly due to the public pressure that has been put on companies once their communities learned about the toxic pollution they were emitting.
That's why the Bush Administration proposal to exempt thousands of smaller companies from reporting their emissions met with such fierce opposition from environmentalists (enough opposition that the original proposal was scaled back), and it's why 12 states have now sued the EPA, in an attempt to stop the rule from taking effect.
This is the rule that allows you, as a public citizen, to know what chemicals are fouling the air or water in your community. It's no wonder, then, that there's such a fight to keep the information public.
To use the Toxic Release Inventory to discover facts about pollutants in the air and water near you, try the EPA's TRI Explorer. If you uncover facts you want to publicize, be a citizen journalist and submit the information to our community news section.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.