Toxic Release Inventory (TRI; US)


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


The Toxic Release Inventory or TRI (TRI Link) provides one measure of the extent of the production of toxic waste and environmental pollution.

The TRI was created by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA; EPCRA Link). Its main purpose was to inform the public about the toxic hazards found in communities across the US. In large part, the TRI was created as one response to the 1984 Union Carbide disaster involving a toxic chemical leak in Bhopal, India that caused the deaths of thousands of people (Lynch, Nalla and Miller, 1986). A similar incident occurred at a Union Carbide plant in the United States (Institute, West Virginia), though that incident did not cause any deaths. Nevertheless, the occurrence of a similar incident in the US caught the eye of US lawmakers who became concerned about the possibility that such incidents would be repeated in the US.

The TRI not only provides information to the public, but information that can be employed to control toxic waste emissions in an effort to reduce pollution. Whether the TRI itself plays a role in the reduction of pollution in the US is still an open question. The volume of pollution reported in the TRI has risen significantly from the later 1980s through the early 2000s, and then began to decline. That decline in toxic emissions, however, corresponds with an economic recession in the US, and thus the drop in TRI emissions may reflect a decline in economic production rather than improved production practices. In more recent years, TRI emissions rose as the US emerged from the economic recession, adding further evidence that the trend in TRI emissions has much to do with economic production levels in the manufacturing sector rather than with other policies that attempt to limit the production of pollution (Lynch and Stretesky, 2014).

Under TRI requirements, manufacturers of a given size must report data on the chemical they use, store on site, transfer to other facilities, or release into the environment and how they release those pollutants into the environment (e.g., water, land, air) to the EPA ( TRI Info). Facilities required to report collect information on more than 650 toxic pollutants covered by TRI reporting requirements. More than 21,000 facilities report this information to the EPA. Over time, changes in reporting requirements has reduced the number of facilities required to report TRI emissions to the EPA, and has some effect on lowering the quantity of emissions reported over time. The average facility reports emitting approximately 200,000 pounds of toxic waste into the environment. However, since the TRI also covers toxic waste produced, transferred and stored, the TRI emission data represent only a small fraction of the volume of toxic pollution created in the US. Total production of toxic waste in the US is more than 22 billion pounds.

TRI data are an important source of information for criminologists concerned with studying the production and distribution of toxic waste in the US, and numerous studies in different fields of study (e.g., sociology, political science, economics, public health) employed these data for a variety of research purposes (Lynch, Burns and Stretesky, 2014).
Further Reading


Lynch, Michael J., Ronald G. Burns and Paul B. Stretesky. (2014). Environmental Crime, Law and Justice: An Introduction. 2nd Edition. El Paso, TX: LFB Scholarly.

Lynch, Michael J., Mahesh K. Nalla and Keith W. Miller. 1989. “Cross Cultural Perceptions of Deviance: The Case of Bhopal.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 26,1:7-35.

Lynch, Michael J. and Paul B. Stretesky. (2014). Exploring Green Criminology: Toward A Green Revolution in Criminology. Farnham, Surrey, UK: Ashgate.

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