Journal of Risk and Uncertainty

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 57–76 | Cite as

Assessing the Accuracy of Self-Reported Data: an Evaluation of the Toxics Release Inventory

  • Scott de Marchi
  • James T. HamiltonEmail author


Self-reported regulatory data are hard to verify. This article compares air emissions reported by plants in the Toxics Release Inventory with chemical concentration levels measured by EPA pollution monitors. We find that the large drops in air emissions reported by firms in the TRI are not always matched by similar reductions in measured concentrations from EPA monitors. When the first digits of the monitored chemical concentrations follow a monotonically decreasing distribution, we expect (via Benford's Law) a similar distribution of first digits for the TRI data. For lead and nitric acid the self-reported data do not follow the expected first digit pattern. This suggests that for these two heavily regulated chemicals plants are not reporting accurate estimates of their air emissions.


Toxics release inventory Benford's law Reporting accuracy Information provision 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arora, Seema and Timothy N. Cason. (1996). “Why Do Firms Volunteer to Exceed Environmental Regulations? Understanding Participation in EPA's 33/50 Program,” Land Economics 72(4), 413–432.Google Scholar
  2. Arora, Seema and Timothy N. Cason. (1999). “Do Community Characteristics Influence Environmental Outcomes? Evidence from the Toxics Release Inventory,” Southern Economic Journal 65(4), 691–716.Google Scholar
  3. Been, Vicki. (1994). “Locally Undesirable Land Uses in Minority Neighborhoods: Disproportionate Siting or Market Dynamics?” Yale Law Journal 103, 1383–1415.Google Scholar
  4. Benford, Frank. (1938). “The Law of Anomalous Numbers,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 78, 551–572.Google Scholar
  5. Brehm, John and James T. Hamilton. (1996). “Noncompliance in Environmental Reporting: Are Violators Ignorant, or Evasive, of the Law?” American Journal of Political Science 40(2), 444–477.Google Scholar
  6. Browne, Malcom W. (1998). “Following Benford's Law, or Looking Out for No. 1,” New York Times, August 4, 1998.Google Scholar
  7. Christie, William G. and Paul H. Schultz. (1999). “The Initiation and Withdrawal of Odd Eighth Quotes Among Nasdaq Stocks: An empirical analysis,” Journal of Financial Economics 52, 409–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cohen, Mark. (1999). “Monitoring and Enforcement of Environmental Policy,” in Tom Tietenberg and Henk Folmer (eds.), International Yearbook of Environmental and Resource Economics. London: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  9. Cohen, Mark A. (2001). “Information as a Policy Instrument in Protecting the Environment: What Have We Learned?” Environmental Law Reporter, April 2001, 31 ELR 10425.Google Scholar
  10. Cole, Luke W. and Sheila R. Foster. (2001). From the Ground Up—Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Dumas, Christopher F. and John H. Devine. (2000). “Detecting Evidence of Non Compliance in Self-Reported Pollution Emissions Data: An Application of Benford's Law,” Paper presented at American Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meeting, Tampa, FL. Available at
  12. Esty, Daniel C. (1996). “Revitalizing Environmental Federalism,” Michigan Law Review 95, 570–653.Google Scholar
  13. Farber, Daniel A. (2000). “Triangulating the Future of Reinvention: Three Emerging Models of Environmental Protection,” University of Illinois Law Review 2000, 61–82.Google Scholar
  14. Fung, Archon, Mary Graham and David Weil. (2002). The Political Economy of Transparency: What Makes Disclosure Policies Sustainable? Working Paper. Kennedy School of Government, Institute for Government Innovation.Google Scholar
  15. Georgia Department of Natural Resources. (1998). Guideline for Ambient Impact Assessment of Toxic Air Pollutant Emissions. Atlanta, GA: Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division, Air Protection Branch.Google Scholar
  16. Gormley, William T. (2000). Environmental Performance Measures in a Federal System. Washington, DC: National Academy of Public Administration.Google Scholar
  17. Graham, Mary. (2002). Democracy by Disclosure: The Rise of Technopopulism. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
  18. Hamilton, James T. (1993). “Politics and Social Costs: Estimating the Impact of Collective Action on Hazardous Waste Facilities,” RAND Journal of Economics 24(1), 101–125.Google Scholar
  19. Hamilton, James T. (1995a). “Pollution as News: Media and Stock Market Reactions to the Toxics Release Inventory Data,” Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 28, 98–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hamilton, James T. (1995b). “Testing for Environmental Racism: Prejudice, Profits, Political Power?” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 14(1), 107–132.Google Scholar
  21. Hamilton, James T. (1999). “Exercising Property Rights to Pollute: Do Cancer Risks and Politics Affect Plant Emission Reductions?” Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 18(2), 105–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hamilton, James T. and W. Kip Viscusi. (1999). Calculating Risks? The Spatial and Political Dimensions of Hazardous Waste Policy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  23. Harford, Jon D. (1997). “Firm Ownership Patterns and Motives for Voluntary Pollution Control,” Managerial and Decision Economics 18(6), 421–432.Google Scholar
  24. Helland, Eric. (1998). “The Enforcement of Pollution Control Laws: Inspections, Violations, and Self-reporting,” Review of Economics and Statistics 80, 141–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Helland, Eric and John V.C. Nye. (Undated). “The Political Economy of Numbers: On the Application of Benford's Law to International Macroeconomic Statistics,” Working Paper.Google Scholar
  26. Hill, T. P. (1995). “A Statistical Derivation of the Significant Digit Law,” Statistical Science 86, 354–363.Google Scholar
  27. Karkkainen, Bradley C. (2001). “Information as Environmental Regulation: TRI and Performance Benchmarking, Precursor to a New Paradigm?” Georgetown Law Journal 89, 257–370.Google Scholar
  28. Khanna, Madhu and Lisa A. Damon. (1999). “EPA's Voluntary 33/50 Program: Impact on Toxic Releases and Economic Performance of Firms,” Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 37, 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Khanna, Madhu, Wilma Rose H. Quimio and Dora Bojilova. (1998). “Toxics Release Information: A Policy Tool for Environmental Protection,” Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 36, 243–266.Google Scholar
  30. Konar, Shameek and Mark A. Cohen. (1997). “Information as Regulation: The Effect of Community Right to Know Laws on Toxic Emissions,” Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 32, 109–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lazarus, Richard J. (2000). “Highways and Bi-ways for Environmental Justice,” Cumberland Law Review 31, 569–597.Google Scholar
  32. Levinson, Arik. (1999). “Grandfather Regulations, New Source Bias, and State Air Toxics Regulations,” Ecological Economics 28, 299–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lyon, Thomas P. and John W. Maxwell. (1999). “‘Voluntary’ Approaches to Environmental Regulation: A Survey,” Working Paper. Kelley School of Business, Indiana University.Google Scholar
  34. Marakovits, Donita M. and Timothy J. Considine. (1996). “An Empirical Analysis of Exposure-Based Regulation to Abate Toxic Air Pollution,” Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 31, 337–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Maxwell, John W., Thomas P. Lyon and Steven C. Hackett. (2000). “Self-Regulation and Social Welfare: The Political Economy of Corporate Environmentalism,” The Journal of Law and Economics 43, 583–617.Google Scholar
  36. Nigrini, Mark. (2000). Digital Analysis Using Benford's Law: Tests & Statistics for Auditors. Vancouver, BC: Global Audit Publications.Google Scholar
  37. Pinkham, Roger. (1961). “On the Distribution of First Significant Digits,” Annals of Mathematical Statistics 32, 1223–1230.Google Scholar
  38. Poje, Gerald V. and Daniel Horowitz. (1990). Phantom Reductions: Tracking Toxic Trends. Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation.Google Scholar
  39. Raimi, Ralph. (1976). “The First Digit Problem,” American Mathematical Monthly 83, 521–538.Google Scholar
  40. Raimi, Ralph. (1985). “The First Digit Problem Again,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 129, 211–219.Google Scholar
  41. Reitze, Jr., Arnold W. and Steven D. Schell. (1999). “Self-Monitoring and Self Reporting of Routine Air Pollution Releases,” Columbia Journal of Environmental Law 24, 63–135.Google Scholar
  42. Roe, David. (2000). “Starting Blocks for Environmental Information Policy,” Environmental Defense Fund, available at:
  43. Schroeder, Christopher H. (2000). “American Regulatory Policy: Have We Found the Third Way?” Kansas Law Review 48, 801–827.Google Scholar
  44. Scott, John T. (1997). “Schumpeterian Competition and Environmental R and D,” Managerial and Decision Economics 18, 455–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Scott, Paul D. and Maria Fasli. (2001). “Benford's Law: An Empirical Investigation and a Novel Explanation,” CSM Technical Report 349.Google Scholar
  46. Shapiro, Marc D. (2005). “Equity and Information: Information Regulation, Environmental Justice, and Risks from Toxic Chemicals,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 24(2), 373–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. South Coast Air Quality Management District. (1997). 1997 Air Quality Management Plan. Available at
  48. Spence, David B. (2001). “The Shadow of the Rational Polluter: Rethinking the Role of Rational Actor Models in Environmental Law,” California Law Review 89, 917–998.Google Scholar
  49. Stephan, Mark. (2002). “Environmental Information Disclosure Programs: They Work, but Why?” Social Science Quarterly 83(1), 190–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Streitweiser, Mary L. (1994). “Cross-Sectional Variation in Toxic Waste Releases from the U.S. Chemical Industry,” Working Paper CES 94–8. Center for Economic Studies, US Bureau of the Census.Google Scholar
  51. Sunstein, Cass R. (1999). “Informational Regulation and Informational Standing: Akins and Beyond,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 147, 613–675.Google Scholar
  52. Terry, Jeffrey C. and Bruce Yandle. (1997). “EPA's Toxic Release Inventory: Stimulus and Response,” Managerial and Decision Economics 18, 433–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Toxic Substances. (1990a). Analysis of Non-Respondents to Section 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. Study prepared by Abt Associates for EPA Office of Toxic Substances.Google Scholar
  54. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Toxic Substances. (1990b). Assessment of Data Quality in the 1987 Toxic Release Inventory: Site Visit Program. Study prepared by Radian Corporation for EPA Office of Toxic Substances.Google Scholar
  55. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (1993). Assessment of Changes in Reported TRI Releases and Transfers Between 1989 and 1990. Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency.Google Scholar
  56. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (1998a). 1994 and 1995 Toxic Release Inventory Data Quality Report. Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency.Google Scholar
  57. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (1998b). 1996 Toxic Release Inventory Data Quality Report. Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency.Google Scholar
  58. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2000). Annual Report on Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Accomplishments in 1999. Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency.Google Scholar
  59. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2001a). Enforcement Response Policy for Section 313 of the Emergency Planning Community Right-to-Know Act (1986) and Section 6607 of the Pollution Prevention Act (1990). Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency.Google Scholar
  60. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2001b). Toxic Chemical Release Inventory Reporting Forms and Instructions: Revised 2000 Version. Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency.Google Scholar
  61. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2002a). 2000 Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Public Data Release Report: Executive Summary. Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency.Google Scholar
  62. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2002b). Protecting the Public and the Environment Through Innovative Approaches: Fiscal Year 2001 Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Accomplishments Report. Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency.Google Scholar
  63. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2002c). Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators User's Manual, Technical Appendix A: Available Toxicity Data for TRI Chemicals. Washington, DC: Environmental Protection Agency.Google Scholar
  64. U.S. General Accounting Office. (1991). Toxic Chemicals: EPA's Toxic Release Inventory is Useful but Can Be Improved. Washington, DC: General Accounting Office.Google Scholar
  65. U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. (1990). Legislative History of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (Public Law 99 499), Volume 1. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  66. Varian, Hal. (1972). “Benford's Law,” The American Statistician 26(June), 65.Google Scholar
  67. Viscusi, W. Kip and James T. Hamilton. (1999). “Are Risk Regulators Rational? Evidence from Hazardous Waste Cleanup Decisions,” American Economic Review 89, 1010–1027.Google Scholar
  68. Woodruff, Tracy J., Daniel A. Axelrad, Jane Caldwell, Rachel Morello-Frosch and Arlene Rosenbaum. (1998). “Public Health Implications of 1990 Air Toxics Concentrations across the United States,” Environmental Health Perspectives 106, 245–251.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceDuke UniversityUSA
  2. 2.Terry Sanford Institute of Public PolicyDuke UniversityDurham

Personalised recommendations