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Indicator 6 2 : Toxic chemicals

Goal: Minnesotans will conserve natural resources to give future generations a healthy environment and a strong economy. Continued prosperity and community well-being depend on conserving and maintaining the natural systems that are the base for economic activity.

Rationale: Toxic chemicals released into Minnesota's environment harm natural systems and human health, and are expensive to clean up.

Pounds of toxic chemicals released, in millions


Data source: Minnesota Department of Public Safety

Pounds of toxic chemicals released per $1 million Gross State Product


Data source: Minnesota Department of Public Safety

About this indicator: Reported releases of toxic chemicals in Minnesota have declined from nearly 54 million pounds in 1988 to 21 million pounds released in 2000. The number of pounds released per $1 million of gross state product dropped from 477 pounds to 124 pounds between 1988 and 1999.

The dramatic improvement in reported toxic releases means that much smaller quantities of toxic chemicals are released directly into the air, land and water, including legally allowed releases and reported spills. However, this does not necessarily mean that there are fewer toxins in the environment. The toxic chemicals reported as released in Minnesota make up only a small portion of the total amount manufactured, handled and used. Most of the chemicals handled at facilities that must report their use are disposed of through accepted methods.

Facilities are required by federal law to use the best available data for their reporting, but the accuracy of the reported data is unknown since it can be based on both actual measurements and estimates. Still, the Toxic Release Inventory is the best public information available on toxic chemicals.

For comparison: Reported toxic releases for the United States totaled almost 8 billion pounds in 1999. Minnesota ranked 35th lowest in the nation for total on-site releases, while Wisconsin and Iowa ranked 29th and 30th respectively. Wisconsin generated 268 pounds and Iowa 516 pounds per $1 million of gross state product, compared to Minnesota's 164 pounds in 1999.

Things to think about: Persistent organic pollutants, also called persistent bioaccumulative toxins, are mostly human-made chemicals that do not break down in the environment and can accumulate in living organisms, including fish, birds and humans. In December 2000, the United States was among 122 nations that negotiated the first worldwide treaty on persistent organic pollutants. If ratified, the agreement will impose worldwide bans or controls on a dozen such pollutants including nine pesticides (aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex and toxaphene) and three chemical families (PCBs, dioxins, and furans). Over 50,000 synthetic organic chemicals are in regular use around the world and roughly a thousand new chemicals enter the marketplace each year.

Technical notes: This indicator relies on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory, which covers 650 chemicals. It covers reported releases into the air and water, on-site land disposal and transfers of heavy metals to public sewage plants. The data is reported by 400 of the largest manufacturing and some non-manufacturing facilities in Minnesota. It does not include chemicals that are transferred off-site because some of those go out of the state and are difficult to track. Because the current reporting requirements apply only to industrial sources, this indicator also omits sources of toxic chemicals from transportation, farming and households.

Differences from the figures reported in Minnesota Milestones 1998 are due to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's revised Toxic Release Inventory data and revised figures for Minnesota's gross state product. The numbers for the year 2000 differ from 1998 because the 2000 figures reflect only a core set of chemicals that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has consistently required facilities to report since 1988.

In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency for the first time added to the Toxic Release Inventory, or lowered the reporting threshold for, a number of persistent bioaccumulative chemicals and chemical families. These are chemicals such as mercury and dioxin that do not break down in nature, or break down very slowly. Future Minnesota Milestones updates may include this data when there are several years of data available to analyze. No gross state product data was available for 2000, thus pounds per $1 million of gross state product could not be computed.


  • Minnesota Emergency Response Commission, 2000 Right-To-Know Chemical Information Report, November 2001,
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
  • International Institute for Sustainable Development,

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