1997 Finalist
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

Prior to 1988, the Environmental Protection Agency's method of controlling industrial toxic chemicals was primarily a regulatory approach. The EPA used mandatory regulations and a Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) report to enforce and assess the release and transfer of toxic chemicals. In 1987, the TRI report showed that, despite EPA regulations, chemical releases were at significantly higher levels than expected. Without any significant change in regulation, by 1988, the report showed that industries were taking steps to reduce chemical emissions.

Noticing this trend, the EPA's administrator requested and received commitments to take voluntary actions to further reduce chemical emissions. The positive response from the industries prompted EPA to expand the approach to include a wider criterion of companies. EPA then set about defining the evolving program, establishing two separate goals. Using the 1988 TRI levels as a baseline, the program aimed to cut emissions by 33 percent before 1992, and to further reduce them to 50 percent of 1988 levels by 1995. To make voluntary action more manageable, the program, now dubbed 33/50, would focus on seventeen of the more prominent industrial chemicals.

This policy shift from regulatory enforcement to voluntary collaboration represented an important development in the EPA's understanding of the chemical reduction methods at hand. In the former environment of dictated standards, various industries met reduction requirements with filters and controls such as wastewater treatment or smokestack filters. Upon the advent of 33/50 collaboration, these same actors began treating pollution at the source by removing them from actual production processes. This prevention was rarely utilized under former methods, as they inspired reactive appeasement rather than proactive reduction.

When considering the results found in the following years' TRI reports, the seventeen chemicals focused on by the 33/50 program appear to have undertaken an accelerated reduction. To be exact, 33/50 chemicals have outpaced the rest of the chemicals documented in TRI reports by almost two hundred percent. The initial reduction goals of 33 and 50 percent were both reached a year early. More than eighty replications of 33/50 have emerged, demonstrating the program's ability to be transferred and applied with relative ease.