The EPA’s Office of Inspector General (IG), an independent organization that monitors the EPA, issued an emergency alert to notify the public that the EPA’s data on toxic chemical releases may be erroneous. The release of such an alert is highly unusual for the IG. The IG remarked that the inaccuracies warranted immediate reporting given their serious nature. The errors pertained to significant differences between the total number of toxic chemicals released into the environment that were publicly reported between 2013 and 2017 and the information independently submitted by the EPA to IG auditors.
The IG sent the emergency notice to the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. The letter stated that information released by the EPA did not comport with the internal data compiled by the EPA. Of particular concern was the finding that data pertaining to the release of dangerous chemicals in Publicly Owned Treatment Works was omitted completely or wholly inaccurate. These discrepancies led to the publication of false or inaccurate information about important environmental conditions that could potentially cause adverse health conditions.
The IG’s report concerning these omissions and errors occurred during an audit of the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). Through the TRI, information is collected relating to toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other health conditions that are emitted by industrial and governmental facilities throughout the United States. According to the IG, the inaccuracies reported by the EPA are likely to negatively impact local communities and researchers who rely on such data.
The EPA was expected to respond to the report within 15 days with a plan for correcting the errors. Within three business days of the release of the report, the EPA introduced corrective measures to mitigate the deficiencies outlined in the report. The EPA noted that the 2017 National Analysis was not compromised by these inconsistencies. Nevertheless, the agency drew criticism for the glitches in its findings. Environment advocates have stated that the TRI is an essential tool in keeping Americans informed about toxic chemical releases and that questions about the integrity of the TRI must be taken seriously and handled immediately.
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