Groups Say Toxic Pollution Data Make the Case to Stop Environmental Rollbacks

Report Outlines Attacks on Public Right-To-Know For More Information, Contact: Jeremiah Baumann, U.S. PIRG, 202-546-9707 Alan Septoff, Mineral Policy Center, 202-887-1872 Rick Blum, OMB Watch, 202-234-8494 Paul Orum, Working Group on CRTK, 202-544-9586 WASHINGTON-New toxic pollution data released today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show that ongoing industrial toxic pollution continues to affect American communities nationwide. Environmental and public interest groups say the data also demonstrate the need for better environmental protections, while the Bush administration has moved to roll back several environmental policies. The data released were the newest data from the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and document nearly 8 billion pounds of toxic chemicals that American industries reported releasing to the environment in 1999. In Utah and Nevada, industries released more than 1 billion pounds just within the state. The top industries were the mining and electric utilities industries, with mining companies releasing almost half of the total toxic releases among all industries. The top five states for chemicals managed as waste were (in order) Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, Nevada, and Ohio. The top five states for transfers off-site as waste were Texas, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. The top five states for chemicals released to the environment on- and off-site were Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Alaska, and Texas. The groups highlighted recent rollbacks of environmental protections that could help reduce the billions of pounds of toxic releases, including limits on arsenic in drinking water and limits on toxic pollution by mining facilities. The groups further cautioned against potential rollbacks of right-to-know policies that produce data like that released today by EPA, including a new requirement for thousands of industrial facilities to start reporting their lead pollution to the TRI which is currently being considered for withdrawal by the Bush administration. "The new data show hundreds of millions of pounds of releases of arsenic and billions of pounds of toxic pollution from mines, just weeks after the Bush administration suspended protections for both of these health threats," said Jeremiah Baumann, environmental health advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). "The new information released today shows exactly why rolling back environmental protections is a terrible idea and why even thinking about rolling back our right to know about lead pollution is an even worse idea." Several weeks ago, the Bush administration decided to re-consider new standards for the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water. The new data document more than 600 million pounds of arsenic and arsenic compounds released to the nation's land and water in 1999. Arsenic causes several types of cancer. The Bush administration has also announced its intention to re-consider regulations on the amount of toxic waste mines can dump in waterways and on public lands. Mines reported releasing nearly 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals in 1999. "Mining is the largest toxic polluter in the country, responsible for polluting 40% of the headwaters of watersheds in the Western states," said Alan Septoff, campaign director for the Mineral Policy Center. "For this administration to roll back the scant protections we have against the environmental destruction caused by mining is absurd." The coalition highlighted potential rollbacks of community right-to-know protections on the Bush administration agenda. In January, the EPA corrected a loophole that had previously allowed industrial facilities to avoid publicly reporting their lead pollution, so long as they used less than five tons of lead. Although lead pollution can cause neurological effects in children, including lower IQ scores, at extremely low exposure levels, the Bush administration and EPA Administrator Christine Whitman are currently withdrawing the new right-to-know rules. In the 1999 data, which do not include data from the nearly 10,000 industrial facilities that would report if the Bush administration does not roll back the new rules, industries reported more than 377 million pounds of lead and lead compounds released to the environment. "Lead is notorious for its effects on the learning and development of children," said Paul Orum, director of the Working Group on Community Right-to-Know. "We need stronger right-to-know laws to hold both industry and government accountable, not rollbacks sought by lead industries." According to environmental and public interest groups, a range of other threats to right-to-know programs exist at EPA. The TRI program is among those receiving proposed budget cuts and the proposed budget would eliminate funding for real-time public reporting on unhealthy air, water pollution, and ultraviolet radiation. Furthermore, a range of policy changes that could broaden what industries can hide as confidential business information or would limit the information publicly reported by industries in an effort to reduce their paper work burden. "There are many ways EPA can make the means of reporting, collecting, and disseminating information easier," said Rick Blum, policy analyst at OMB Watch, a nonprofit public interest organization that promotes government transparency and the public's right to know. "Limiting our right-to-know doesn't need to be an option." The coalition said that the success of the Toxics Release Inventory shows that EPA should instead look toward expanding the right-to-know programs. In its first ten years, the TRI has been credited with a 45% voluntary reduction in reported releases. During the same time period, however, the total amount of toxic waste generated increased, which the environmental groups argued could be addressed by expanding right-to-know requirements. The coalition pointed out that industries don't currently report chemical use, requirements that in Massachusetts and New Jersey have led to dramatic reductions in toxic waste generation. The coalition also identified other right-to-know needs, including information on American's exposures to the chemicals and information on incidence of various chronic diseases. Health groups have called for the creation of a nationwide health tracking network to monitor environmental impacts on public health. The groups released a report on pending threats to the public's right-to-know. For 1999 Toxics Release Inventory data and rankings see
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