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Toxic Releases and Health: A Review of Pollution Data and Current Knowledge on the Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals
Fair Use Statement

Source: USPIRG

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Download report and view maps -- Toxic Releases and Health: A Review of Pollution Data and Current Knowledge on the Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals.

Embargoed For Release: January 22, 2003
10:00 a.m. EST
For More Information Contact:
Meghan Purvis or Jeremiah Baumann
(202) 546-9707

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, 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 2000, 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 chemicals.

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.

See also:

Download report and view maps -- Toxic Releases and Health: A Review of Pollution Data and Current Knowledge on the Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals.

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