Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program

2013-14 TRI University Academic Partners

The 2013 TRI University Challenge resulted in eight projects with academic partners for the 2013-2014 school year.

Brief descriptions of each of the eight projects are below. Links to deliverables are also provided, as appropriate. While most of the projects are scheduled to be completed in May-June of 2014, the Huston-Tillotson University and University of Washington-Bothell projects are scheduled to conclude in December 2014 and spring 2015, respectively.

Drew University – Environmental Studies and Sustainability

Primary Researcher
Dr. Lisa Jordan, Director of the Drew University’s Spatial Data Center and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies & Sustainability

Project Summary

Drew University faculty developed online tutorial materials Exitto introduce basic TRI queries and analysis to GIS users. These materials were used in both introductory and advanced university courses Exiton GIS, taught at Drew University. In addition to educational materials, the spring 2014 GIS course was devoted exclusively to researching spatial patterns in the TRI. Students working in teams are currently developing several TRI research projects, which will culminate in two final products: research posters to be presented at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection offices in Trenton this April, and formal research papers.

Huston-Tillotson University – Natural Sciences and Environmental Studies

Primary Researcher
Dr. Amanda Masino, Assistant Professor of Biology

Expected Project Outcomes (scheduled for completion in December 2014)

  • Development of TRI-data based case studies/problem-based learning modules for three courses: a science course for non-science majors (Environmental Biology), a science course for science majors (Ecology), and a non-science course (Environmental History)
  • Implementation and evaluation of the learning modules, including the collection of data on efficacy and student learning
  • Design and implementation of a series of TRI-based workshops for community stakeholders

Indiana University-Bloomington - School of Public Health

Primary Researchers
Dr. Michael Hendryx, Professor of Applied Health Science
Dr. Juhua Luo, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Project Summary

The Indiana University-Bloomington researchers merged TRI data with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Area Health Resource File. They made this merged database available as Excel(32 MB)STATA(15 MB), and SAS(15 MB) files. This merged database will be useful to broadly explore release of toxics from TRI facilities alongside sociodemographic and health data at the county level. They also created a codebook/data dictionary (PDF) to help other researchers understand the definitions of the data elements in the merged database. The journal Environmental Research recently published an article Exitbased on project.

SUNY Plattsburgh - Center for Earth and Environmental Science

Primary Researchers
Dr. Curt Gervich, Assistant Professor of Biology, Center for Earth and Environmental Science
Jake Eudene
Christopher Evans
Jim Fonzone

Project Summary

The team at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh created “Toxic Release!”, an eco-educational simulation game that demonstrates the various dynamics between stakeholders that are impacted by industrial chemical releases. The game overcomes many of the barriers to effective teaching and learning about toxic releases through a participatory, computer-based environmental management and policy development simulation. The purpose of the game is to use TRI data to make the invisible dynamics associated with toxic releases more tangible. Players assume the roles of industry professionals, community members concerned with environmental and human health, and government regulators. These stakeholders then use computer models founded upon TRI data, role play, and environmental problem-solving frameworks to manage a toxic release scenario. Players must think creatively while collaborating to explore the science, risk, management, and policy development processes related to toxic releases.

University of California, Los Angeles - Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

Primary Researcher
Dr. Magali Delmas, Director of the UCLA Center for Corporate Environmental Performance, Professor of Management

Project Summary

The UCLA team developed the Cal EcoMaps website Exit to highlight TRI reporting facilities in the Los Angeles Basin through an interactive mapUsers are able to see information on profiled facilities from the top four emitting industries in Los Angeles County, including facilities in the petroleum, fabricated metals, primary metals, and chemicals industries. The information includes total toxic releases per facility, releases per $1000 of revenue, percent of waste treated through preferred management practices, and an estimate of associated cancer risks. These variables are generated for individual facilities on the interactive map and summarized in a separate section dedicated to industry-level analyses. This website will be useful to the residents of the Los Angeles Basin as an interactive way to access facility-level TRI information, and for facilities that would like to compare their environmental performance with other facilities in the same industry sector. The information is presented in a comprehendible and concise way that highlights the most useful facility data. The UCLA faculty and students presented their interactive map and supporting research (PDF) to EPA staff in June 2014.

University of Washington, Bothell - Digital Future Lab and School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Primary Researchers
Jason Pace, Executive Director, Digital Future Lab Dr. Gwen Ottinger, Assistant Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Expected Project Outcomes (scheduled for completion in spring 2015)

  • Design and implementation of data visualization using TRI data
  • Conduct initial pilot project in graduate level environmental justice class
  • Design revisions based upon feedback collected during pilot
  • Disseminate and evaluate data visualization in other UW Bothell courses
  • Dissemination of data visualization to environmental faculty nationwide

University of Wisconsin, Green Bay – Natural and Applied Sciences

Primary Researchers
Dr. John Katers, Professor and Chair of Natural and Applied Sciences
Jacob Eggerts

Project Summary

Drawing from a research project that has been successfully used for almost 15 years in the Pollution Control course at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay (UWGB), the team developed an instructor's guide for the implementation of a TRI-based class research project. The guide provides information on how to implement the project, as well as how it may potentially be used in other university or high school environmental programs. In the spring of 2014, a UWGB graduate student conducted several sessions at area high schools to introduce students to toxic pollutants, teach students how to use the TRI website, identify significant source of TRI chemicals in their county, and investigate pollution control/prevention techniques used by facilities with TRI releases. After the high school sessions, 75% of students were able to define toxic chemicals (with 40% using the word carcinogen or cancer causing) and 85% were able to identify the top polluting industries in their area (with 26% being able to name specific facilities). Based on the high school sessions, a short TRI worksheet was developed, making it more widely accepted learning opportunity because of the limited class time available for the completion of a more detailed research project. Links to the instructor’s guide and TRI worksheet will be made available here when they are finalized in June 2014.

Washington University in St. Louis - Brown School of Social Work and Public Health

Primary Researcher
Rebecca Gernes, dual-degree candidate in social work and public health at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis

Project Summary

Rebecca Gernes from the Brown School for Social Work and Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis used TRI data to conduct an asthma incidence study in the St. Louis area. The purpose of her study was to determine the strength of association between toxic point sources reported to TRI and asthma hospitalization outcomes at the ZIP code level, and to examine toxic air releases alongside socio-demographic and asthma indicators to identify disparities in exposure to air pollution and asthma outcomes. She created a series of maps and conducted linear regressions to analyze 2010 TRI data, sociodemographic variables, and hospitalizations for asthma. Her analysis supported previous findings of higher asthma hospitalization rates in socially disadvantaged areas. She also found that ZIP codes with the highest asthma hospitalization rates were on average located closer to TRI facilities and highways. Rebecca conducted an additional analysis which revealed that mobile and secondary sources accounted for over 97% of respiratory risk in the region in 2005, while point sources accounted for only 2% of risk. She suggests that future research should examine mobile sources of pollution such as highways, as well as potential contributors to secondary pollution to determine potential risks to respiratory health. Her results were shared with community educators, researchers, and policy makers in the region to help focus community efforts to reduce asthma hospitalization.

Download a poster (PDF) summarizing Rebecca Gernes’ research.

Any reports, conclusions and recommendations created and submitted by academic institutions participating in the TRI University Challenge do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the TRI Program or the U.S. EPA, nor does EPA or any of its employees endorse the providers of such material. EPA is providing these materials for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of information provided by the academic institutions. Project proposals may consist of or include copyrightable or other proprietary subject matter (IP). Applicants grant to EPA permission to use all project proposals for purposes of evaluation. EPA and the winning applicant(s) will negotiate rights in project proposal IP and memorialize those rights in the MOU. Title to any project proposal intellectual property will remain with the winning applicant(s).