Paint companies, shipyards and other industrial companies released 126,000 pounds of pollution in the Seattle area during 2004, an improvement over the previous year and a reason supporters of the tracking program are arguing against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recent proposal to scale it back.
The largest amounts of harmful chemicals released were solvents and lead. Most of the chemicals are going into the air, particularly in the corridor along the Duwamish River, a federal Superfund cleanup site where millions of dollars are being spent to scrub out decades of industrial pollution.
There's a risk of the air pollution settling back down to the river and recontaminating cleaned areas. The releases also threaten the predominantly low-income and racially diverse residents living in the Duwamish region, environmentalists say.
The state Department of Health is working on a study of pollution in the area.
According to the EPA inventory, the city's top polluter is Puget Sound Coatings, a painting company west of Boeing Field and the Duwamish.
Rich Tieman, the company's manager, said it has made "continual strides" to reduce pollution. Those efforts include installing filtering devices and using new painting processes at the 50-year-old business.
The company's work is specified by customers — architects, engineers and the military — which he said limits its ability to use environmentally friendly paints.
Other companies have said they've made similar moves to reduce pollution.
This is an "astonishingly successful program," Clark Williams-Derry, research director for Northwest Environment Watch, told a local paper after the EPA released new data this week.
The tracking program, called the Toxics Release Inventory, requires large-volume, industrial polluters to report their emissions of cancer-causing chemicals and other pollutants to the EPA.
Statewide, industrial pollution releases rose dramatically from 2003 to 2004, an increase attributed to the reopening of the Teck Cominco mine in northeastern Washington.
EPA data show that industrial companies in Washington released nearly 33 million pounds of pollution in 2004, up from about 22.5 million pounds the year before.
That's still a steep drop from the late 1980s, when tracking efforts began. In 1988, industrial pollution releases statewide totaled 107 million pounds — more than three times the 2004 total.
"The fact that companies are required to account for their toxic releases makes a huge difference in their mindsets,"
Williams-Derry said. "It becomes something that they're responsible for measuring and can get bad press for. Just letting the sunshine in the process has been a huge help in pollution reduction."
The state requires businesses to reduce emissions over time, and the EPA program plays a key role, said Idell Hansen, the state Ecology Department's Toxic Release Inventory coordinator. The EPA inventory "keeps that pressure on to keep those emissions down," Hansen said.
The EPA has not made a final decision on the changes it has proposed — namely, requiring emissions reports every two years instead of annually and raising the volume of chemicals that have to be released before a report is required.
"The jury is still out," said Brook Madrone, who manages the program for the regional EPA office.
Some business leaders note that while the EPA program spotlights industrial pollution, it misses many of the largest sources, including sewage treatment plants; car and truck exhaust; pollution from ships, trains and airplanes; and the filthy water that rain washes off paved areas and rooftops.
— The Associated Press