Fiddling while the world burns

The amount of toxic chemicals released into the environment increased 16 percent in 2010, according to a report from the EPA. That reverses a downward trend from years before and was driven by metal mining and the chemical industry. Releases of dioxin, a toxin linked to cancer and other diseases, increased 10 percent.

Sadly, the Pacific Northwest appears to be one of the biggest culprits: The EPA defines the Northwest region as including Alaska, Washington, Idaho and Oregon. In those four states combined, metal mining accounted for 92 percent of the toxic chemicals released. Mining is far bigger in Alaska and Idaho – which produced the greatest volume of toxic chemical releases – than in Washington and Oregon.

The EPA’s new data that for Oregon, Washington and Idaho combined, the release of toxic chemicals rose to 135.3 million pounds by 2007. The following year — when the global financial meltdown drove the economy into recession — the amount of chemicals released began to decline, both nationally and in the Northwest.

The decline continued until 2009, when the amount of toxics released in Oregon, Washington and Idaho combined totaled 93.4 million pounds.

The 2010 chemical release totals for the region, at 110.5 million tons represent an 18 percent increase from the previous year but remain 18 percent below the 2007 level.