U.S. industries cut their toxic-chemical pollution by more than 1 billion pounds in 2001 for the biggest decrease in nearly 15 years, according to Environmental Protection Agency figures released Monday.
While other environmental indicators worsened slightly in the early years of the Bush administration, the annual Toxic Release Inventory showed a 15.5 percent drop in nonlead toxic pollution into the air, water and ground.
Arizona industries have cut the amount of toxic chemicals released into the air, land and water by 18 percent, the study said.
EPA spokeswoman Lisa Fasano said the amount of toxins released into the air in Arizona fell by 11 percent, the amount released into the ground by 18 percent and the amount into water 31 percent between 2000 and 2001.
"The overall amount higher than the national average, which was 15 percent," Fasano said the decrease.
Arizona ranks third in nation in the amount of total releases because of mining operations, Fasano said Eighty-nine percent of state’s on-site releases from mining operations.
When wind and rain mining materials, such things as mercury, lead and arsenic can be released, Fasano said.
The vast majority of the land release decrease — 62 percent — can be attributed to Phelps Dodge’s cutting back of operations in Morenci and Miami, Ariz., Fasano said. Cutbacks at Phelps Dodge’s Bisbee operation also contributed significantly to the decrease in surface water discharges.
Overall, 275 Arizona facilities reported 607 million pounds of toxic chemical releases in 2001.
Nationally, the decrease was from 6.76 billion pounds in 2000 to 5.71 billion pounds in 2001. The only bigger drop was in 1989, when companies scrambled to cut emissions after the embarrassment of the first year they were required to report toxic pollutants.
‘‘We’re seeing a significant drop, and we’re not exactly sure why,’’ said assistant EPA administrator Kim Nelson. ‘‘A lot more companies are being sensitive to the bottom line, both from an economical perspective and an environmental perspective.’’
‘‘There’s a lot of good news here,’’ said Howard Frumkin, chairman of the environmental health department at Emory University in Atlanta.
He credited technological change and companies looking to become efficient by reducing the amount of waste they produce and chemicals they use.
Frumkin said a sluggish economy in 2001 may have played a small role in the pollution decrease that year, but EPA officials said they didn’t study the economy’s effect.
Toxic emissions dropped nearly 55 percent from 1988 to 2001, Frumkin said. While the sharpest reduction occurred during the first year of the Bush administration, he said, ‘‘what we’re really seeing here is long-term changes.’’
The drops in toxic pollution were nearly across the board. Only five of the 25 industries that pollute the most showed increases from 2000 to 2001: Petroleum processing, coal mining, measuring device-makers, printing companies and tobacco.
The largest reduction came from the mining industry, which cut 602.5 million pounds of toxic waste from 2000 to 2001. That industry is the largest single toxic polluter, producing about 45 percent of total emissions.
The second-biggest polluter — electric utilities — cut 98.3 million pounds of pollution.
Only nine states saw increases in toxic pollution from 2000 to 2001: New Jersey (which nearly doubled), South Carolina, South Dakota, Indiana, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland and Hawaii.
Nevada, which cut nearly 250 million pounds of toxic pollution, and Utah, which reduced by 213 million pounds, led the nation in reductions.
Environmentalists applauded the move.
‘‘I don’t know all the reasons that releases have decreased from 2000 to 2001. I think it’s great,’’ said Tom Natan, research director for the National Environmental Trust, a Washington environmental group.