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Metals Mining Tops Chemical Releases

by Glenn Hess
January 28, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 4

Credit: Bureau of Land Management
Lead mining contributes to toxic releases into the environment.
Underground lead mining near Viburnum, MO in the Mark Twain National Forest. Taken June 27, 2008.
Credit: Bureau of Land Management
Lead mining contributes to toxic releases into the environment.

In 2011, 4.09 billion lb of toxic chemicals was disposed of or released into the environment by U.S. facilities, an 8% increase from 2010, according to EPA’s annual Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) report. The agency attributes the increase to a rise in land disposal at metal mines. Nearly half of 2011’s total toxic releases originated from mining of metals such as copper, lead, and gold. “In this sector, even a small change in the chemical composition of the ore being mined can lead to big changes in the amount of toxic chemicals reported nationally,” the report notes. Considering only air emissions, total toxic chemical releases in 2011 declined 8% from the previous year. Likely reasons include a shift from coal to other fuel sources and installation of control technologies at coal-fired power plants, the report says. Under the TRI program, EPA collects information on release of certain toxic chemicals to the air, water, and land, as well as on waste management and pollution prevention activities across the U.S. Data are submitted annually to the agency by facilities in 26 industry sectors.


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