Green Delaware Alert 637: Coal power plant emissions dominate Del. Toxic Release Inventory

Green Delaware Alert 637
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Delaware  “Toxic Release Inventory” data for 2007:

Total “on-site releases” to air, water, and land are 10.7 million pounds

75 percent of statewide TRI air releases come from power plants
53% of total (air, water, land) TRI on-site releases come from power plants

47% of statewide TRI air releases come from NRG’s Indian River power plant
34% of total statewide TRI releases come from NRG’s Indian River power plant

But actual power plant chemical emissions are about 17 times higher than the TRI reports reveal


This week the DNREC released “Toxics Release Inventory” (TRI) data for 2007.  This information is collected and reported under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) .

The DNREC data release is at .  We think the DNREC has done a pretty good job of presenting the information, but these is of course some “spin.”

Limitations of the TRI

The “TRI” covers only a small percentage of the total chemicals around, covers only some industries, and has recently been weakened, like many other environmental laws, by the Bush administration.  The TRI covers 581 individual chemicals and 30 chemical categories.  To put this in perspective, the American Chemical Society recognizes about 20 million different chemicals, about one million of which are “in commerce.”  Industries not included in TRI reporting include transportation, sewage treatment plants, and agriculture.

We emphasize this up front because many people, including those who should know better, take this “TRI” information to be the total universe of pollution.  Some other less-publicized data bases give information on other chemical releases.

Here’s an example:

Our old friend, NRG’s Indian River power plant, reports releasing into our air 3,271,238 pounds of TRI chemicals in 2007.

A couple of years ago, this facility reported TRI air emissions of 3,932,377 pounds but the total harmful emissions reported to the DNREC were 68,207,232 pounds.  Only 5.7 percent of the harmful emissions known to DNREC were reported in the TRI. The actual emissions are about 17 times higher!  Why?  This information is collected under a different federal law (the Clean Air Act) and the DNREC is not required to publish the information.  Usually it is released only in response to a FOIA request.  For details see .

And, of course, carbon emissions are much higher yet and not included in either the TRI or Clean Air Act totals.

We’ve only begun our analysis of the 2007 data, but here is some interesting information:

In 2007, in Delaware, 69 facilities reported on 102 chemicals totalling 104 million pounds.  Of this, a total of 10.7 million pounds were reported as “on site releases.”  The rest went to “On-site waste management” or “Off-site transfers.”

Bear in mind that the chemicals are reported only if they are considered wastes or are “released” to the air, land, or water.  If they are products or “intermediates” they aren’t reported.

The big TRI picture (From Appendix E of the Delaware data release)

Released to the air we breathe:                   6,920,246 pounds        (65 percent)
Released to water (rivers, streams, etc)                 3,327,675 pounds        (31 percent)
released to land (dumps, ponds, spills, etc)               406,188 pounds       (4 percent)
Total                                                         10,654,109 pounds

Most of the air release was of hydrochloric acid.
Most of the water release was nitrate compounds to the Delaware River.
Most of the land release was barium compounds.

The greatest releases to air and land were in Sussex County.
The greatest releases to water were in New Castle County.

The largest releasing industry was “utilities” at 53% of the total, followed by petroleum at 27% and chemical manufacturing at 11%.

Coal burners are the dominant TRI source in Delaware

total statewide on-site TRI releases             10,654,109 pounds

Indian River power plant                          3,664,155
Edge Moor/Hay Road power plants          1,800,241
NRG Dover (also a coal burner)              153,012
McKee Run power plant (City of Dover)              1.6
total power plant on-site releases               5,617,409.6

Percent total on-site releases from power plants  53%

If we consider just air releases

total statewide air releases                      6,920,246

Indian River power plant                          3,271,238
Edge Moor/Hay Road power plants          1,792,016
NRG Dover (also a coal burner)              153,012
McKee Run power plant (City of Dover)                 2 (note error here:  the air release can’t be less than the total)
total power plant “air” releases                  5,216,268

Percent total air releases from power plants  75%

NRG’s Indian River power plant is the largest single source by far

Percent total releases from Indian River power plant:      34%

Percent air releases from Indian River power plant:  47%

These numbers should be coming down substantially if NRG and Conectiv comply with the DNREC “multi-pollutant” regulation.  But this will not solve the problem because the pollutants captured from the smokestacks will tend to end up in the water or on land (in ash dumps).  For some more information see 516: Power plant cleanup hearings this week


This TRI information reaffirms

o       The strong connection between “energy policy” and “environmental policy;” and
o       The need to phase out coal burning if Delaware is serious about becoming clean and healthy, and staying above water.

Alan Muller

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