In a one-two punch on the state of America’s air, government figures revealed today that 2.4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released annually while 100 million people live where other pollutants, chiefly from autos, exceed federal standards.
The report on toxic substances--poisonous materials released by chemical plants and other industries--is the first comprehensive look at them. Many have been linked to cancer, birth defects, reproductive dysfunctions, neurological disorders and genetic mutations.
Among the 328 individual and classes of chemicals surveyed were 60 government-identified cancer-causing agents; methyl isocyanate, the toxic gas that killed at least 3,400 people and injured 20,000 in Bhopal, India, in December, 1984, and phosgene, a nerve gas used in World War I.
“The magnitude of this problem far exceeds our worst fears,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who released the preliminary Environmental Protection Agency figures for 1987 at a news conference with Reps. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.), James J. Florio (D-N.J.) and Gerry Sikorski (D-Minn.).
Waxman said the EPA “has broken commitment after commitment to deal with this problem” during the 19-year life of the Clean Air Act, and all four lawmakers said they will soon introduce legislation to force the EPA to control these emissions.
Only seven of the substances are now regulated by the EPA, although a separate agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has set standards for more than 400 toxics in the workplace.