EPA’s ECHO database compiles PTPC pollution history

EPA’s ECHO database (Environmental Compliance History Online) yields some great information once you get exploring around in it. An EPA official showed me that by following the “Facility Search” link, it brought me to a page that combines annual pollution data for Port Townsend Paper that is collected through three EPA programs (TRI, NAAQS and GHG), and presents several years worth in a single, clean table. As of this writing (2017-12-31!) it provides 2007-2016.

That table is linked here:

EPA’s ECHO Report for Port Townsend Paper Corporation

The ECHO report lists the specific chemicals, which break out into three categories: Criteria Pollutants (or “NAAQS”, pronounced “naks”), the Toxic Release Inventory, and Greenhouse Gases.

We also like some of the other data sources for wide and/or detailed pictures of Port Townsend Paper’s pollution. But this post will focus on the treasure trove that we’ve found via this ECHO database.

Update 2018-01-03 This post is undergoing intensive editing. So ignore everything below this line.

What happens to toxic waste that’s trucked off-site?

PT AirWatchers has known for several years that Port Townsend Paper trucks away some 4,000 pounds per year of waste that’s so toxic that it cannot be dumped on PTPC’s already toxic landfill. We have spent considerable time talking with officials in several agencies to locate this information, with little success. Finally, here it is within this EPA table. The next questions are, what is the nature of that waste (what about it is that level of toxic?); what responsibility comes with producing, tracking, mitigating and accounting for it — for PTPC, officials and the receiving facility/ies; what kind of eventual cleanup & who pays for that cleanup (will taxpayers and the environment eventually end up holding the bag?); and who officially keeps tabs on all of that?

TRI, GHG, Criteria Pollutants – what are they?

The clean air act breaks out chemicals that industries produce into three categories for tracking and reporting. They are specified in both federal and state law. To reduce the number of chemicals that need to be reported and thus the sheer volume of data, subsets of those chemicals are selected as representatives of others that they tend to travel with.


  •  TRI | Toxic Release Inventory Program
Port Townsend Paper emits about 560,000 pounds of 13 reported TRI chemicals per year.
The Toxic Release Inventory program covers approximately 595 chemicals that have been identified as ones that in relatively small quantities (as compared with the criteria pollutants and greenhouse gases), can cause “cancer or other chronic human health effects, significant adverse acute human health effects, [and/or] significant adverse environmental effects” For example, 4 pounds of mercury can devastate a small bay, and dioxins collect in the food chain and are carcinogenic in mere fractions of grams.  For oversight, EPA requires industries to report a subset of these.
Because of their health effects, the TRI chemicals are the ones that PT AirWatchers has focused on the most.
The link above gives good insights into the Toxic Release Inventory program, the included chemicals and their effects. The EPA’s TRI Explorer, Envirofacts, and RSEI, found at that webpage under “TRI Data and Tools”, a good ways to find info on PTPC’s emissions, as well as national data.

The 13 TRI chemicals that PTPC is required to report are:

Acetaldehyde, ammonia, catechol, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid “aerosols”, lead compounds, manganese compounds, methanol, naphthalene, phenol, polychlorinated biphenyls, and polycyclic aromatic compounds.

•  NAAQS | Criteria Air Pollutants | US EPA

Port Townsend Paper emits about 3.6 million pounds of Criteria Air Pollutants annually.
Criteria Pollutants are six pollutants that are emitted in fairly large quantities, are relatively easily measured, and as they are reduced, produce fast and significant improvements to health and the environment.
Their levels are viewed as an overall indicator of health or harms being done to the environment.
The criteria pollutants are:
    Carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5, up to 10 and 2.5 microns respectively), and ozone.
The limits set by the EPA and the states for criteria pollution emissions are called “NAAQS” or National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

•  Greenhouse Gases

•  Greenhouse Gases and the Pulp and Paper Industry

•  Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data

PTPC emits over 1 Billion pounds of greenhouse gases every year.

Greenhouse gases are emitted in large quantities and contribute to climate change, acid rain and subsequent health and environmental problems.
When you look up PTPC’s data at the data link above, close the front pop-up box, and don’t believe the first CO2 total that comes up (around 60-70,000 tons per year). You’ll have to click through to the actual data (480-650,000 tons per year, nearly 10x as much).

This is where you are introduced to the concepts of “biogenic” and “non-biogenic”. “Biogenic” is a marketing term, an accounting trick that allow industries to claim an apparent reduction in CO2 emissions without actually releasing any less CO2 (or even increasing it), simply by shifting their fuel mix.  You may be interested to see how this plays out by viewing PT AirWatchers’ chart entitled “How to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% without removing any CO2 from the Air“, which was made after EPA released its data from the first year of required CO2 reporting (2010).

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