100 Plants in Populated Areas Across the U.S. Responsible for 39 Percent of Toxic Air Emissions

An Estimated 11,581 Children Live Within a Mile of the “Toxic 100”, and 112,681 Live Within Three Miles

Washington, D.C.— A new analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project found that over a third (39 percent) of all toxic air emissions nationwide in 2018 came from just 100 facilities that have at least 250 people living within a mile. Forty-four percent of the people living within this radius are low-income residents—significantly higher than the national average of just under 33 percent.

The report, “Breath to the People: Sacred Air and Toxic Pollution,” was produced in collaboration with the United Church of Christ. For the report, EIP analyzed emissions from the over 15,500 facilities included in the U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory and singled out 100 facilities—the “Toxic 100” —with the potential to impact the most people due to the surrounding population density. For an interactive map of the Toxic 100, visit https://www.ucc.org/breathtothepeople.

Some chemicals contain more potent toxins than others, so in order to assess where the most toxic releases occurred, EIP applied EPA’s methodology that assigns greater weight to pollutants that are more toxic when inhaled (inhalation toxicity). For example, applying EPA’s weighting factors to compare the relative toxicity of two different pollutants, a ton of benzene is roughly equivalent to 393 tons of ethylene oxide.

“This report is our latest attempt to draw attention to the many threats posed by industrial pollution—especially to those living in close proximity the emission sources—and to provide common-sense and long-lasting solutions,” said Courtney Bernhardt, Research Director for the Environmental Integrity Project.

More than a third (34 percent) of all toxicity-weighted air emissions came from just ten counties across the country, and 19 percent (884 million toxicity-weighted tons) of all toxic emissions reported to the TRI in 2018 came from 352 facilities in just four counties in Texas: Calhoun, Jefferson, Harris, and Webb. The remainder of the top ten counties include: Ascension and Calcasieu parishes in Louisiana; Humboldt County, Nevada; and Des Moines County, Iowa; and Montgomery County, Virginia.

An estimated 169,654 people live within a mile of a Toxic 100 plant, and over 1.6 million live within three miles. At the national level, the percentage of people of color or Hispanics or Latinos, low-income residents, and children under five living within one mile of the Toxic 100 were all higher than national averages. Forty-four percent of the population is low income, which is significantly higher than the national average of just under 33 percent. Forty percent are people of color or Hispanic or Latino, while the national average is 38 percent. The percentage of children living within a mile of the Toxic 100, seven percent, is close to the national average of six percent. An estimated 11,581 children live within a mile of the Toxic 100, while 112,681 live within three miles.

“This report highlights and reconfirms what we cannot overlook: Children are in direct harm’s way to toxic air pollution,” said Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, Executive Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Network. “We have evidence of children living near fence line communities, among clusters of polluting companies and those who are exposed to multiple injustices before us. This is far from okay and requires the urgent public will necessary to stand up for and protect the health, safety and future of our children today.”

The facilities in the Toxic 100 reported releasing 166 different chemicals or chemical compounds to the air in 2018. These chemicals consist of hundreds of different carcinogens, persistent bio-accumulative toxins, metals, and other toxic chemicals. Three of the most toxic chemicals released include ethylene oxide, hexavalent chromium, and nickel, all potent human carcinogens.

“It is not an accident that we are releasing this report on Ash Wednesday, a day associated with repentance,” said the Rev. Brooks Berndt, UCC minister for environmental justice, the church’s point person for the project. “In its Greek origins, repentance was about turning around and changing course to go in a better direction. As a nation, it is time for us to go in a better direction for the sake of our children and communities across the country.”

The UCC has a long history of environmental justice work. Its groundbreaking 1987 study, “Toxic Wastes and Race,” is still cited by activists and academics.

Media contacts:
Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project (443) 510-2574 or tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org

Connie Larkman, UCC News Director, Cleveland, office 216-736-2196, cell 216-496-5540, larkmanc@ucc.org