Chemical emissions in industry-laden Richmond County fell by almost 1 million pounds from 2008 to 2009, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's newly released Toxic Inventory Report, which tracks releases to air, land and water.
The decrease -- from 11.85 million pounds in 2008 to 10.88 million pounds last year -- follows a broader national trend in which economic changes and better technology have reduced emissions in many regions, including the Southeast.
Augusta's largest polluters tend to be the largest industries, with No. 1 emitter PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer reporting the release of 5,457,745 pounds of ammonia, nitrate compounds and other chemicals.
DSM Chemicals North America was second, with 2,895,359 pounds of chemicals that included nitrates, cyclohexane, ammonia and toluene.
Ranking third was another major industry, International Paper, which reported 2,175,876 pounds of ammonia, hydrochloric acid, methanol and other compounds.
Mercury emissions in Richmond County continued to decline, with Olin Corp.'s Augusta plant reporting 171 pounds released in 2009, compared with 191 pounds in 2008. Those levels are significantly lower than in past years. For example, the plant reported releases of 3,456 pounds in 1989 before better pollution controls were installed.
The company announced last week it would eliminate the use of mercury to manufacture chlorine at its 45-year-old Augusta plant by late 2012.
In Columbia County, where there are only a handful of large industries, total releases were 583,416 pounds -- mostly the solvent toluene used at the Worldcolor printing plant in Evans.
Aiken County emissions totaled 2,817,050 pounds, most of which originated within Savannah River Site, which reported the release of 853,276 pounds of barium compounds, 265,085 pounds of nickel compounds, 73,002 pounds of sulfuric acid and varying amounts of other chemicals.
The next-highest emitter was South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.'s Urquhart Plant across the Savannah River from Augusta, which reported 278,282 pounds of hydrochloric acid among its total releases of 342,140 pounds.
Industries report the volume and variety of emissions to state and federal regulators. The emissions are authorized under environmental permitting programs administered by Georgia's Environmental Protection Division and South Carolina's Department of Health & Environmental Control.
Across the Southeast, industries released about 657 million pounds of toxic chemicals, a 9.4 percent decrease from 2008, the report said.