How can West Virginians learn what kinds of toxic chemicals they are being exposed to?

People living near industrial facilities in West Virginia are constantly being exposed to toxic chemicals, and they have a right to know about these chemicals.

West Virginia is home to many industrial operations where hazardous chemical byproducts must be regularly disposed of. Many of these chemicals are invisible and odorless, which runs the risk of people being poisoned by a nearby factory while remaining unaware of what is happening to them. Workers at these plants and the people living in nearby towns are at the greatest risk of chemically-induced injuries or diseases. Nearly 100,000 West Virginians work in the combined fields of material transportation and production occupations, and all of them may be at risk. To assess their risk levels, people can learn what is being released into the air around them by contacting the appropriate agencies.

How the U.S. has raised access to information about hazardous chemicals

It wasn't always so easy for someone to find out what chemicals are coming out of the smokestacks at their local industrial facility. As the industry continued to grow in the U.S., injuries related to toxic chemical exposure became more common, culminating in the release of pollutants from a chemical plant in the town of Institute, West Virginia, in 1985, where more than 100 people were hospitalized. In 1986 the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act was passed, increasing people's access to information about chemical pollutants produced by their local industrial facilities. As part of the EPCRA, the Toxic Release Inventory was created by the EPA as a hub that anyone in the community can access to find this information in detail.

What TRI makes available to communities

In addition to prioritizing pollution reduction, TRI also compares the amounts of toxic chemicals released by one facility with similar facilities in other locations throughout the U.S. Over time, TRI also tracks reductions or increases of toxic chemical releases from facilities in the community. By checking TRI, people can find out exactly which chemicals are being released. People can also find out where any TRI facilities are located in their area and how many are currently operating. Anyone with internet access can log on to www.epa.gov/tri/myrtk to quickly access all of this information.

It is a legal requirement of all industrial facilities to remain within the EPA's chemical release limitations for the sake of public safety. Unfortunately, not all facilities remain under these limits, and even people who know what is in the air around them still have to breathe it. Anyone who has been injured from the release of toxic chemicals may have their quality of life reduced and may need to pay for expensive medical treatment. It may be possible to get financial compensation in some cases. An attorney in the local area who practices personal injury law may be able to help in these matters.