Hazardous chemicals are used in our manufacturing processes, in packaging, and in the products we use. These chemicals can cause concern to us and the environment when we are exposed to them. Minnesota’s policy is to eliminate or reduce at the source the use, generation, or release of toxic pollutants and hazardous wastes.
The MPCA works to address the challenges our use of chemicals creates by:
- Working with manufacturers to find ways to reduce chemical waste or avoid the use of toxic chemicals in the production process.
- Working with companies to find ways to reduce or avoid the use of toxic chemicals in the products they make.
Why is it important?
Toxic chemicals are a growing concern for us and the environment. Air, water, and soil samples show the unintended presence of many toxic chemicals due to human activity.
Our knowledge about the risks posed to people and the environment from chemicals at low levels is changing rapidly, which makes it prudent to take opportunities to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals through pollution prevention.
Trends in generation of toxic chemical waste
According to 2011 data from Minnesota’s 413 reporting facilities, generation of Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) chemical waste has increased in the past two years to exceed 2007 levels. This suggests that progress in pollution prevention among manufacturers has stalled.
However, the limits of TRI data should be understood. For some chemicals, the TRI may account for only a fraction of the chemical’s total volume in products and unintended releases to the environment during the life of a product or after its disposal. BPA is one example, a high production volume chemical with use in the U.S. estimated at 2.4 billion pounds in 2007 and at that time, growing.
Pollution prevention efforts
Paint product stewardship
The product stewardship program for managing architectural paint in Minnesota requires paint manufacturers to implement and finance such a program. MPCA expects a stewardship plan to be submitted by March 1, 2014 that describes how the program will function. Implementation is set to begin by July 1, 2014.
Paint was selected for a product stewardship initiative based on its volume in the waste stream, cost to manage, and high potential for increased recovery and recycling. Minnesota’s counties spend approximately $5 million annually managing leftover paint, so the burden for disposal and recycling falls on the general taxpayer.
To address the growing amount of waste electronics in Minnesota and rising costs associated with properly managing these wastes, manufacturers of video display devices (TVs, computer monitors, laptops) are required to collect and recycle 80% by weight of their products sold in Minnesota. Electronic products contain lead and other heavy metals that are toxic if released into the environment. MPCA is working to identify ways to improve the program.
Reducing toxic chemicals in products
MPCA’s Pollution Prevention Program promotes green chemistry and engineering, most recently through curriculum development grants awarded to several Minnesota post-secondary institutions and through exploration of toxics in products involving chemicals of high concern, such as lead and mercury.