The amount of toxic chemicals spewed into the air each year is at least three times as great as previously believed, according to a new government survey released Wednesday.
The data, collected by the Environmental Protection Agency and released in Congress, reveals that about 2.4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals--some of them linked to cancer, birth defects and impotency--are released into the air each year by chemical manufacturing plants and other industrial sources.
The report, based on industry estimates from 1987, did not attempt to assess the health hazard that such emissions might cause. But the EPA officials and the congressmen who released the report sounded new concerns because of statistics that both described as startling.
“The magnitude of this problem far exceeds our worst fears,” Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) said.
“It’s a big number,” said Donald Clay, the EPA’s top official on air quality issues. “It’s a health problem that needs to be addressed.”
Another EPA official, Chris Rice, noted that the study did not include all possible sources of toxic emissions and said that the agency now believes the total annual volume of such emissions could exceed 4 billion pounds.
A spokesman for the Chemical Manufacturers Assn., however, dismissed suggestions that such figures raise public health concerns. “The numbers are just that,” he said. “They are raw numbers. They don’t say anything about concentration or exposure.
“You can’t use these numbers to suggest or allege or charge that there are health effects resulting from these numbers,” he said.
Only seven of the more than 328 chemicals surveyed in the EPA study fall under agency regulations restricting emissions of chemicals into the air. But all are classified as toxic under guidelines issued by other government units, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
At a news conference, Waxman and other congressmen excoriated the EPA for failing to take action to regulate the pollutants, charging that the agency had “broken commitment after commitment to deal with this problem.”
Joined by Reps. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.), James J. Florio (D-N. J.) and Gerry Sikorski (D-Minn.), Waxman pledged to introduce legislation that would strengthen the Clean Air Act to force the agency to take action to regulate the emissions.
Through its spokesman, the EPA accepted part of the blame, acknowledging that “our track record . . . has not worked. We have not done well.”
But the EPA officials contended that the agency’s controls on ozone and airborne particulates had decreased toxic emissions by 40% from what they would otherwise have been. Officials said that the Administration would also seek to expand restrictions on toxic emissions when it submits its own Clean Air Act proposal in May.
Meanwhile Wednesday, another EPA study showed that more than 100 million Americans live in areas plagued by air pollution that exceeds federal standards.
The figure, which confirmed previous estimates, was contained in an annual report showing marked increases in ozone pollution, which Clay called “probably the most pervasive health problem we have.”
Levels Up 14% in 1988
Ozone levels, aggravated by hot weather, increased on average by 5% between 1986 and 1987, and by another 14% in 1988, the report showed.
The report on toxic emissions showed that the chemical industry was by far the most frequent industrial source of toxic chemicals in the environment, and was followed by industries producing primary metals, paper, transportation equipment and rubber and plastics.
Toxics emitted in the atmosphere but not regulated by the EPA include a wide variety of chemicals listed by the government as carcinogens and neurotoxins.
Among the most prevalent chemicals emitted each year, according to the study, are ammonia, of which 233 million pounds were released, and acetone, with 186 million pounds released.
Among carcinogens found to be released into the environment were methylene chloride (112.2 million pounds) and benzene (24.8 million pounds).
POURING TOXIC CHEMICALS INTO THE AIR
States with the highest annual emissions.... State: Millions of Pounds Texas: 229.9 Louisiana: 134.5 Tennessee: 132.4 Virginia: 131.4 Ohio: 122.5 Michigan: 106.2 Indiana: 103.5 Illinois: 103.1 Georgia: 94.3 North Carolina: 92.3