Thanks for an interesting question. I do a lot of environmental work,
and data like these are dear to my heart. I have to warn you
though...there's nothing easy about getting a handle on updated
Most of the figures you cite come from EPA's annual inventory of
chemical releases, known as the Toxics Release Inventory, or simply,
TRI reporting has changed dramatically since 1989...many more types of
facilities are required to report now than was the case back in 1989,
and there is an expanded set of chemical pollutants that they must
report on (although a few large-volume chemicals have been dropped
from the TRI list).
Bottom line, the numbers must be reviewed very carefully before trying
to make any comparisions to what is report these days, and what was
being reported more than a decade ago.
That said, the latest TRI data -- recently released, and covering
reporting year 2004 -- are available here:
2004 TRI Public Data Release
Summary of Key Findings
Here are some key excerpts from the report regarding quantities of
waste generated or released to the environment:
...The information has been collected annually since 1987. For 2004,
the latest year for which data
are available, disposal or other releases of TRI chemicals totaled
over 4.24 billion pounds from
over 23,600 U.S. facilities submitting almost 90,000 chemical forms.
...87% (3.71 billion pounds) was disposed of or otherwise released
.....1.55 billion pounds (36%) of air emissions
.....721 million pounds (17%) in surface impoundments other than RCRA
Subtitle C surface impoundments
.....602 million pounds (14%) in Class I (hazardous waste) underground
injection wells, RCRA Subtitle C (hazardous waste) landfills and other
.....541 million pounds (13%) of other land disposal (such as waste
piles, spills or leaks)
...13% (536 million pounds) was sent off-site for disposal or other
.....350 million pounds (8%) to Class I (hazardous waste) underground
injection wells, RCRA Subtitle C landfills and other landfills
...78 million pounds (2%) of metals sent for solidification and/or stabilization
Long term trends from 1988-2004 are covered in the report...remember,
the numbers are not consistent with those above, since a different
subset of chemicals and facilities are being totalled for the sake of
Here is the relevant excerpt:
TRI DATA, 1988-2004
...Over the seventeen years from 1988 to 2004, total on- and off-site
disposal or other releases of TRI
chemicals decreased by 57 percent (by 1.71 billion pounds), looking at
trends in the industries and
chemicals that have been consistently reported since that time. The
number of facilities reporting
decreased by 15 percent over that same time period. This decrease only
takes into consideration
the 1988 core set of chemicals (i.e., those chemicals that have been
on the TRI list 1988 and have
had the same reporting definition since 1988).
You also asked about the 100,000 chemicals figure that is commonly
reported. This is an old (and rather rough) estimate of the number of
chemicals in commercial production. The numbers don't change much
because as new chemicals come into commerce, old ones fall out of use.
In addition, there simiply haven't been reliable new estimates of the
total numbers of chemicals being produced.
You can see an updated mention of the universe of chemicals in
commerce in this government report on cancer:
CANCER AND THE ENVIRONMENT
...because there are more than 100,000 chemicals commonly used by
Americans in household cleaners, solvents, pesticides, food additives,
lawn care, and other products. Every year, another 1,000 or so are
I trust these numbers will meet your needs. They are hard to manage,
but I'm afraid that's unavoidable, since they are reported in such a
complicated fashion, mirroring the complexities of the world itself.
If there's anything else you need, just let me know by posting a
Request for Clarification.
search strategy -- Answered based on personal knowledge of TRI and
sources of environmental information.