Report Finds Significant Pollution Linked to Chronic Health Impacts:
Pollution Trends Shift From Rust Belt to Sun Belt
WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. industries discharge several billion pounds of toxic
chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, and
other chronic health problems each year, according to a new report released
today by U.S. PIRG. The report, Toxic Releases and Health A Review of Pollution
Data and Current Knowledge on the Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals, summarizes
air and water pollution reported by industry from 1987 to 2000 and identifies significant
gaps in information on health impacts of such pollution.
"Polluters across the country discharge billions of pounds of toxic
pollution linked to serious health impacts each year," reports U. S. PIRG
environmental health associate Meghan Purvis. "But without adequate public
health systems for tracking environmental exposures and potentially related
disease, we don't know how this pollution is affecting our health."
Since 1987, toxic pollution linked to serious health effects has shifted
from the traditionally industrial Northeast and Midwest to the South,
according to the report. In addition, a significant portion of toxic
releases are concentrated in a small number of areas. For example, in 2000,
76% of air and water releases of chemicals linked to potential reproductive
harm occurred in just ten zip codes.
Significant amounts of pollution linked to chronic health problems
documented in the report include:
" More than 100 million pounds of carcinogens were released into the air and
water nationally in 2002, with Texas, Pennsylvania and Indiana ranking first
through third for these releases.
" Tennessee ranked first overall in releases of both developmental and
reproductive toxicants, followed by Alabama and Illinois in 2000. More than
138 million pounds of developmental toxicants and 50.8 million pounds of
reproductive toxicants were released nationally in 2000.
" More than 1 billion pounds of chemicals suspected to cause neurological
problems were released in 2000, with Texas, Tennessee and Louisiana ranking
first through third for these releases.
" Over 1.7 billion pounds of suspected respiratory irritants were released
into the air and water in 2000, and the states of Ohio, North Carolina and
Georgia ranked first through third in these releases.
Because few states track human exposures to toxic discharges or the rates of
potentially related chronic diseases, U. S. PIRG's research also showed that
the public lacks information on how toxic pollution affects human health.
Currently only three states_Massachusetts, California, and Iowa_have
high-level cancer and birth defect registries as well as systematic tracking
of asthma. There is virtually no tracking of neurological conditions such as
autism, and tracking of environmental exposures linked with these chronic
diseases is extremely limited.
"It should be an urgent priority for federal decision-makers to establish
nationwide health tracking systems so that toxic impacts on health can be
monitored and prevented," said Purvis. "At the same time, toxics exposures
should be reduced and eliminated."
While the chemicals covered in U.S. PIRG's study are each linked to serious
health consequences, federal pollution reporting covers less than one
percent of the estimated 80,000 chemicals on the market today. U.S. law also
makes it difficult for a chemical that poses a health threat to be banned or
restricted or even for the government to require health effects testing of
During 2002, Congress approved funding for the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention to award 20 grants to state and municipal public health
departments for pilot projects in environmental health tracking as the first
pieces of a nationwide health tracking network. The Senate is currently
debating fiscal year 2003 spending bills and is expected to provide an
increase in funding for the health tracking funding to $30 million. U.S.
PIRG urged Congressional leaders maintain that increased level of funding as
the Senate finalizes its spending bills and the Congressional leadership
works to send final bills to the president.
U.S. PIRG applauded Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Reps. Peter King
(R-NY) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for sponsoring legislation to set up a
nationwide network for tracking chronic diseases.
U.S. PIRG is the national lobbying office for the state Public Interest
Research Groups. State PIRGs are state-based non-profit, non-partisan public
interest advocacy organizations.
Monica Rohde Buckhorn
Persistent Toxics Campaign Coordinator
Center for Health, Environment and Justice
P.O. Box 6806
Falls Church, VA 22040
(703) 237-2249 ext. 19