The Investigators

Feb 19, 2014 8:05 PM by Tom McNamara and Paul Birmingham

N4T Investigators: Tracking toxic releases in Tucson

Clean air and clean water is something all of us want for our families. But, how can we be sure that companies with locations in Tucson are playing by the rules?

The feds use something called the Toxic Releases Inventory, or TRI, to track and make the public aware of certain toxic chemicals which may pose a threat to your health and the environment.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators wanted to find out who is on the TRI in Tucson, and what's being done about it.

The TRI was created by Congress back in 1986 following a massive chemical release that killed thousands in 2004 in India, and another serious chemical release in West Virginia the following year.

"Congress passed this law because they believe that a community has a right to know. In addition to that, our agency and many other agencies also do use this information for looking for priority areas for the various work they do," says Lilly Lee, with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Each year, companies are required to report how much of each toxic chemical is released to the environment or managed through recycling, energy recovery and treatment.

"Many of these releases can be routine releases that are being monitored and restricted by other environmental laws that are designed to protect public health and the environment. So, it doesn't necessarily mean an accidental release, or a release that isn't being monitored," Lee says.

In Arizona, the EPA says there are 257 facilities that report to the TRI. They're responsible for releases and transfers of more than 86-million pounds combined.

In Tucson, the total number of facilities is 20. Topping the list of releases for 2012 is Bombardier, the multi-national aerospace company behind Learjet. Hayley Dunne, a senior company spokesperson tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, their service center, near the Tucson International Airport services business jets for customers. Chemicals include naphthalene and ethlybenzene, components of Jet A fuel, as well as toluene, a paint solvent.

"Obviously, transportation industries involve having an impact on the environment. Whether it be with toxic chemicals, or emissions, carbon footprints, et cetera. So, safety, health and safety our top priorities, so we're constantly looking at ways to improve," Dunne says.

Dunne also tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators the company has improved, reducing emissions by 25% compared to 2011.

Another company listed on the toxic release inventory in Tucson is Sasol. The Louisiana-based company operates a facility near Kolb and Valencia. Nancy Tower, a company spokesperson tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators; approximately 50 local residents are employed there, manufacturing high purity alumina powder, which is used in LED lights, high brightness street lamps, high tech ceramics and more. Tower tells the news 4 Tucson Investigators; the company prides itself on safe and environmentally responsible operations.

"The reported emissions for 2012 did not have any off-site impact and were in compliance with Sasol's air permit issued by the Pima county department of environmental quality. And, at a process change last year has resulted in decreased emissions, which will be evident in the EPA's next report," Tower says.

If you have something you'd like the News 4 Tucson Investigator to check out, email us at investigators@kvoa.com, or call the News 4 Tucson Investigators tip-line at 955-4444.

Click here for the 2012 Toxic Releases Inventory for Tucson.

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