More than 289 million pounds of toxic chemicals were released into Ohio's air, land, and water in 2003.
Sound staggering? Consider that it was the sixth consecutive year in which overall numbers inched their way down.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's 17th toxic release inventory, an annual collection of industry-reported data released Monday, showed a decrease of 1.3 million pounds over 2002 figures. That's a decline of less than one half of 1 percent.
But Lucas County, third in releases in 2002, moved down to 10th in 2003. The Ohio EPA said that's largely because the hazardous waste landfill in Oregon owned by Envirosafe Services of Ohio Inc. took in less waste from the steel industry in 2003.
The inventories, required by federal right-to-know laws, give residents a snapshot look at what's released without quantifying how much poses a threat.
Each report is based on data submitted two years earlier. A national report based on data from all 50 states is to be issued by the U.S. EPA.
Technological advances in pollution control affect totals. But so do market conditions, production output, recycling efforts, and reporting requirements, Mike Settles, an Ohio EPA spokesman, said.
The latter have undergone numerous changes.
Greg Nogardy, Ohio EPA specialist, noted that coal-fired power plants were exempt until 1998. And industry figures on dioxin releases, one of the most toxic classes of chemicals, weren't required until 2000.
FirstEnergy Corp.'s coal-fired W.H. Sammis plant in Jefferson County took the dubious honor of being Ohio's No. 1 facility for sheer bulk releases. The utility recently settled violations there for $1.1 billion, the second-largest sum the federal government has ever negotiated from a utility. Most of that will go toward the installation of more pollution control devices at Sammis and three other FirstEnergy plants.
The BP chemical plant in Lima, Ohio, and the Sandusky County waste facility operated by Vickery Environmental Inc. were listed as second and fourth, respectively, for total releases. But those two facilities are among three in Ohio authorized to inject wastes underground.
Mary Caprella, a BP spokesman, said the public often doesn't realize that almost none of the chemical plant's waste goes into the air or water.
Likewise, nearly all waste buried at Envirosafe is secluded from the public, Doug Roberts, company president, said.
Envirosafe slid down to ninth place overall from second place in 2002.
He said nearly everything buried at Envirosafe comes from the steel industry now, with 80 to 85 percent of the waste being electric arc furnace dust captured by air filters.
Toledo is a microcosm of Ohio in that it has an industrial tradition itself.
But neither of the Jeep factories owned by the city's largest employer, DaimlerChrysler, are among the state's Top 100 for overall discharges.
DaimlerChrysler's Jeep assembly plant in North Toledo was fourth in air emissions in Lucas County and 68th in Ohio for air emissions. The company's older assembly plant at Jeep Parkway and Stickney Avenue was fifth in Lucas County for air emissions and 69th in the state for air emissions, Ohio EPA records show.
Only one Toledo company, Textileather Corp., was among the Top 100 for overall discharges. Textileather, also in North Toledo, was No. 1 in air emissions among Lucas County industries, 37th in the state for air emissions, and 72nd for total releases.
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