Toxic Waste Ranking Doesn’t Show True Hazard

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Environmental Protection Agency’s toxicity ranking of the states is a crude estimate of threats to human health, a University of Tennessee researcher said Tuesday.

Tennessee ranked second behind Texas in the EPA’s latest annual Toxic Release Inventory of pounds of toxic emissions released annually by each state.

Mary Swanson of UT-Knoxville’s Energy, Environment and Resources Center said toxicity factors other than number of pounds may be a better way to assess the nation’s hazardous waste problem.

Tennessee may not be the second most polluted state or pose the second greatest risk to humans, despite being second on the EPA inventory, she said.

“The TRI is a crude estimate of the magnitude of the problem,” Swanson said. “It doesn’t really say what this means in terms of threats to human health or the environment. To do that, you’d need a lot more information than just pounds.”

The level of toxicity, how long it stays, how fast it accumulates in the environment, and where it is emitted must be taken into account to reflect the hazard that exists in a state, Swanson said.

An upcoming issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry will feature Swanson’s article on methods for ranking chemicals on the basis of potential health and environmental impacts.

In 1993, UT’s Center for Clean Products and Clean Technology did a study showing that the hazard risk from toxic chemicals was lower in Tennessee than in other states that had fewer emissions.

Contact: Mary Swanson (423-974-4251)