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The EPA's Internal Watchdog Warns of Discrepancies in Data on Chemical Releases

The Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Inspector General issued an emergency alert on Monday, warning that public data about toxic chemical releases published by the EPA didn't align with internal data for the years 2013 to 2017.

According to the alert, the discrepancy in data regarding chemical releases from what the EPA describes as "Publicly Owned Treatment Works" is "of sufficient concern to warrant immediate reporting."

The data was gathered by the Toxics Release Inventory program, which annually collects data and information about toxic chemical releases reported to the EPA by both industrial and government facilities across the United States.

The TRI reports specifically check for chemicals that cause cancer and chronic health effects, among other acute effects to human and environmental health.

The OIG called for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, to which the alert was sent, to release its plans for correcting the identified discrepancies and to "disclose the degree to which the discrepancies identified impact the public reporting of TRI releases."

Sheehan concluded that "the public is not receiving complete and timely information about environmental conditions affecting human health."

Reporting for Pacific Standard in 2017, Francie Diep wrote about concerns regarding the future of data justice under President Donald Trump. Massive cuts to the EPA's budget also likely have implications for databases run by the EPA, including the TRI.

Diep explains why access to public data matters when it comes to cases of environmental justice:

The idea is that, in order to prove that they've been treated unfairly, [vulnerable] communities ... need hard numbers. But because they may be socioeconomically disadvantaged, they often don't have scientists or monitoring equipment working in their area. It's a Catch-22.

While the TRI is protected by law as part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act passed by Congress in 1986, the level of financial support for the TRI database depends on the administration.