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
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,"
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."