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Industries releasing fewer chemicals, report says
State emissions dropped by 9% from 2000 to 2001
By Meg Jones
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Chemicals released into the air, water and land dropped by 9% in 2001 compared with the previous year, although Wisconsin's decrease was lower than the nationwide figure of 13%, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's annual Toxic Release Inventory released this week.

Because of the change in how lead was tallied, the EPA calculated that if lead were taken out of the picture, the total amount of all other toxic chemicals released into the environment nationwide in 2001 was 15.5% less than in 2000.

State environmental officials have worked with paper companies and utilities for several years to cut air and water emissions of toxic chemicals, said Jack Sullivan, acting administrator for the Department of Natural Resources' Enforcement and Science Division.

"There's a lot of emphasis on this, and we're now seeing some of the results," he said.

In 2001, the latest year for which figures are available, almost 35 million pounds of chemicals were released into Wisconsin's environment, mostly air emissions. That's down from 38.4 million pounds in 2000.

Although the decline was below the national decrease, Sullivan said it's difficult to compare Wisconsin with the national average because the types of industries vary in each state.

For example, metals mining accounts for nearly half of the nation's total toxic chemical releases. The major facilities that release toxic chemicals in Wisconsin are paper mills and power plants, according to the EPA report.

Leading the list of counties with the most emissions was Wood County, where Stora Enso North America's pulp mill is located in Wisconsin Rapids. Second on the list is Milwaukee County, where there's a coal-burning power plant in Oak Creek, and third is Ozaukee County, home to Charter Steel Co. and a power plant in Port Washington.

Still some concern
While the total amount of toxic emissions is dropping, a state environmentalist pointed out that one class of chemicals - called persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals - increased. Those chemicals, which include mercury, persist in the environment for a long time.

"The DNR is trying to promulgate new mercury rules so there's recognition these are bad chemicals," said Jennifer Feyerherm, toxics specialist with the Sierra Club's Great Lakes Program. "We need to start looking at classes of chemicals, especially persistent ones, and looking at the use of the chemicals and not just the emissions."

Marc Looze, clean air campaign director for Clean Wisconsin, said several coal-burning power plants made the list of the top 10 facilities for toxic emissions, including two that are proposing to expand their operations - We Energies' plants in Oak Creek and Port Washington.

"In my opinion, it's really time to end our addiction to coal," said Looze, whose group was formerly called Wisconsin's Environmental Decade.

"Current regulations for power plants and paper mills do not adequately protect public health. What we need to do is strengthen regulations of industries that are consistently among the top toxic polluters in Wisconsin," Looze said.

A spokeswoman for We Energies, which operates six coal-fueled power plants in Wisconsin, said the utility lowered its emissions 16% between 2000 and 2001. With a surging demand for electricity, coal-burning plants are an efficient way to provide power, said spokeswoman Margaret Stanfield.

"People want abundant electricity, and they want it at an affordable price," Stanfield said. "We want to produce that electricity in a manner that's environmentally responsible. The fact these numbers are declining demonstrates how hard we're working to achieve that."

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