5.3. Toxics Release Inventory: Point sources of contaminants in the LSJR region

The EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program was established as a provision of the Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act designed to protect communities from chemical hazards. The legislation was enacted in 1986 after serious industrial accidents in Bhopal India and in West Virginia resulted in numerous fatalities. The program was expanded under the 1990 Pollution Prevention Act so that today the TRI program requires facilities to report the quantities of more than 650 toxic chemicals that they release into the environment. Annually, they must report how much of each of these compounds is released on-site into the air, to surface water, to groundwater, to landfills, and to surface impoundments. They must also quantify how much they treat on-site and how much is transported off-site for treatment or disposal (e.g., to publicly-owned municipal treatment plants or to landfills). Facilities are not required to report their releases if they have fewer than 10 employees or if they discharge less than various threshold limits for different chemicals (EPA 2015d). The reported quantities may be derived from direct measurement, modeling estimates, or by “emission factors.” The emission factors are usually averages of available data on emission rates of facilities in a particular source category (e.g., electric utilities, on-road vehicles) (EPA 2013f).

The TRI provides information that can be used to estimate point source loading of hundreds of chemicals released into the environment by dozens of industries. Local, statewide or national trends can be examined. We determined the annual loading of toxic compounds into the LSJR basin from 2001 to 2013 using data from EPA’s TRI-NET database (EPA 2015b). Emissions into the atmosphere and discharges into LSJR surface waters were analyzed since chemicals released to these media are most likely to affect the LSJR, though significant discharges to land are also reported for many industries (Table 5.1). The environmental impact of atmospheric emissions is more difficult to determine than direct surface water discharges because of uncertainties in the fate of chemicals in the atmosphere and the potential impact from both long-range and local sources. However, higher local emissions will certainly increase the likelihood of local impact. In the following discussion, atmospheric emissions are addressed separately from surface water discharges.

Analyses of air emissions included all reporting facilities in the nine counties in the LSJR watershed: Clay, Duval, Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns, Volusia, Alachua, Baker, and Bradford. Even if facilities are not located directly on the river, nearby emissions are potential sources of pollutants in the river, though exactly how much finds its way into the river is largely unknown. For discharges into the LSJR surface waters, we included facilities that discharged directly into the SJR or its tributaries, as determined by the Form R report submitted by the facilities to the EPA. It is important to note that the magnitude of discharges or emissions does not always directly relate to human health effects or environmental harm. The Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) is a companion EPA program that uses TRI data to screen for overall toxicity (EPA 2013e). Quantities of chemicals, their individual toxicity, their fate in the environment, and their proximity to people are used to determine discharges of toxicity, rather than pounds. The relative importance of major emissions and discharges to chronic human health is addressed using the results of the RSEI model, although data are only available until 2011. It is important to note that the RSEI analysis does not indicate that there is a human health risk. It only indicates which emissions and discharges in our local environment are the most likely to have chronic human health risks associated with them.

Table 5.1 Reported Releases of Chemicals by Industries in the LSJR Basin (EPA 2015d)

Releases of Chemicals to the Atmosphere1
YearTotal TonsNo. Chemicals2No. IndustriesNo. Facilities
Releases of Chemicals to the LSJR and Tributaries3
YearTotal TonsNo. Chemicals2No. IndustriesNo. Facilities

1 Chemical releases from facilities emitting into the atmosphere in nine counties of the LSJR watershed
2 Number of unique chemicals or chemical classes released.
3 Chemical releases from facilities discharging to the surface waters of the LSJR and its tributaries.

Typically, industrial facilities emit more chemicals into the atmosphere than into surface water (Table 5.1). The reporting facilities in the nine LSJR counties released 91% of their waste into the atmosphere. These numbers do not include the on-site releases to landfills and surface impoundments.

Between 2001 and 2013, the reported annual release of chemicals to the atmosphere declined by over 70% to 4.4 million pounds (Figures 5.3 and 5.4). Reductions in emissions of hydrochloric and sulfuric acids by St. Johns River Power Park and Northside Generating Station, Seminole Electric and Gainesville Regional Utilities at Deerhaven were responsible for most of the decline. Sulfuric acid declined the most with a 6.2 million pound or 79% reduction over 13 years. Emissions declined for 58 of the 83 reported chemicals between 2001 and 2013. Ammonia, hexane and phenol were major exceptions with increases of 63%, 159% and 595%, respectively.

Despite the substantial reductions in acid gas emissions (sulfuric, hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids), they still comprised 63% percent of the chemicals reported to be released to the LSJR region atmosphere in 2013, mostly released by electric utilities. Of the total atmospheric releases in 2013, 30% were composed of methanol, ammonia and styrene that were emitted primarily by electric utilities and the transportation equipment and paper industries. The remaining chemicals released into the atmosphere were organic and inorganic compounds, such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons and metals discussed in more detail in Sections 5.4 and 5.5.

In 2011 (the most recent year for which the RSEI model has data), regular emissions of sulfuric acid had the highest potential for chronic human health risk of all reported atmospheric releases, followed by cobalt, arsenic, and chromium, which were all emitted by the electric utilities. An accidental release of ethylene oxide by BAE Shipyards was also significant in 2011. Releases of formaldehyde by Georgia-Pacific and benzene by BP Products were also among the top ten atmospheric releases that had the highest potential for human health risks (EPA 2013e).

Figure 5.3
Figure 5.3 Trends and status of 83 chemicals released to the atmosphere by industries in the nine-county LSJR basin as reported in the Toxics Release Inventory (EPA 2015d). Inset shows the distribution of 2,176 tons of chemicals emitted in 2013. The Other category in the inset is composed of 44 chemicals ranging from 3.3 tons of zinc to 40 milligrams of dioxins.
Figure 5.4
Figure 5.4 Trends and status of 23 industries releasing chemicals to the atmosphere in the nine-county LSJR basin as reported in the Toxics Release Inventory (EPA 2015d). Inset shows the major industries emitting 2,176 tons of chemicals in 2013.

Unlike atmospheric emissions, surface water discharges into the LSJR did not decline between 2001 and 2013, but have increased by 34%. Fluctuations in the extremely large discharges of nitrate and manganese by the paper industry and U.S. DOD affected overall SJR loading during the decade (Figures 5.5 and 5.6). Of the chemicals reported to be released into surface water in 2013, 12 were discharged at greater rates since 2001 and 12 chemicals were discharged at lower rates. The electric utility industry experienced an increase of 186% (nearly 15,000 pounds) in total annual chemicals discharged between 2001 and 2013, much of it in the form of nickel, barium, and cobalt compounds.

In 2013 most of the chemicals reported to be discharged directly into the SJR and its tributaries were nitrates released by the U.S. Department of Defense (over 318,000 lbs.) and manganese by the pulp and paper industry (51,000 lbs.). The paper industry reported no nitrate discharges in 2013, in contrast to 2013 when 105,000 pounds were reported. The nitrate and manganese discharges represented 91% of the total quantity of chemicals released into the LSJR in 2013 (Figures 5.5 and 5.6).

Figure 5.5
Figure 5.5 Trends and status of 46 chemicals released to the LSJR and its tributaries as reported in the Toxics Release Inventory (EPA 2015d). Inset shows the distribution of over 400,000 pounds of chemicals discharged in 2013. The Other category in the inset is composed of 15
chemicals ranging from 510 pounds of lead compounds to a few milligrams of dioxins.
Figure 5.6
Figure 5.6 Trends and status of 11 industries releasing chemicals into the LSJR and its tributaries as reported in the Toxics Release Inventory (EPA 2015d). Inset shows the major industries discharging over 400,000 pounds of chemicals in 2013.

An analysis of toxicity loading into the LSJR surface waters by industries is greatly hindered by the fact the St. Johns River Power Park/Northside Generating Station, a major discharger, is not included in the EPA RSEI model because there is insufficient or questionable information about the segment of the river where it discharges its effluents. This may result from the reverse flow of the river causing difficulties with the model accuracy or due to inadequate flow information about the region from the National Hydrography Dataset used in the model (EPA 2013c). However, of the remaining discharges in 2013, arsenic, mercury, copper and polyaromatic hydrocarbons released by the other electric utilities contributed most of the total toxicity along with lead, mercury and dioxins discharged by the pulp and paper industries. The major pathway to exposure was found to be fish ingestion.

In summary, industries in the LSJR region reported the release of 4.8 million pounds of chemicals into the air and into the river and its tributaries in 2013, with 91% released into the air. Local emissions to the atmosphere, mostly from electric utilities, are primarily composed of acid gases followed by methanol, styrene, and ammonia. Air emissions have declined by more than two-thirds between 2001 and 2013, which is similar to the rest of the state (EPA 2015c). The LSJR surface waters received over 400,000 pounds of chemicals in 2013, mostly nitrates and manganese released by the U.S. Department of Defense and the paper industry.  The rate of discharge of chemicals into the LSJR surface waters in 2013 is 34% greater than in 2001 while the rest of the state discharged 24% less since 2001.

Of all atmospheric emissions in the LSJR region in 2011, sulfuric acid and metals emitted into the atmosphere by electric utilities were most likely to cause chronic human health effects. Of surface water discharges in the LSJR in 2011, metals, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and dioxins discharged by electric utilities and the paper industry had the highest potential for human health risk. It is important to note that this does not mean that there is a human health risk. It means simply that of all the chemicals released into our local environment by industry, these are the most likely to be the most significant in terms of human health.

Overall, TRI data suggest that the mass of contaminants released to the atmosphere from point sources in the LSJR region has significantly declined over a decade though little change in overall surface water discharges has occurred. These reductions in atmospheric emissions may be related to the recently enacted rules for reducing air emissions of mercury and other toxic compounds from coal-fired utilities (EPA 2013d). Emissions are frequently estimated from production-dependent emission factors, thus the decline in reported emissions may reflect the general decline in U.S. industrial productivity during the last several years.

The STATUS of point sources of toxics emitted into the atmosphere is satisfactory because the rate of emissions is similar to the rest of the state and the TREND is improving. The STATUS of point sources of toxics discharged into the LSJR surface waters is unsatisfactory because the rate of discharges exceeds the rest of the state, and the TREND is unchanged.