24 January 2003
Uses U.S. Zip Codes To Map Industrial Pollutants
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
environmental-activist group is using ZIP codes to deliver bad news
about toxic pollutants.
U.S. Public Interest Research Group combed through government data
on the billions of pounds of toxic chemicals released into the nation's
air and water by industrial facilities each year and mapped pollution-release
levels by ZIP Code.
group's study also matched specific pollutants with the health
risks they may pose to indicate regional risks for such things as
birth defects and respiratory disorders in various regions.
are required to report information on toxic releases to the Environmental
Protection Agency, and the study looked at the EPA's 2000 data,
the most current information available.
report found that during the last decade, the country's pollution
center has shifted from the industrial Northeast and Midwest to
the South. Thirteen Southern states, stretching from North Carolina
to New Mexico, were responsible for producing nearly half of all
toxic releases known to cause cancer.
same states released 67% of all dioxin, a highly toxic chemical
linked to cancer and reproductive and developmental disorders. While
Texas and Tennessee were among the highest polluters overall, Pennsylvania
and Indiana also exhibited high concentrations of carcinogens.
PIRG, which is based in Washington, D.C., hopes the findings will
add urgency to efforts to create tracking systems that would help
researchers understand the geographic patterns of chronic diseases.
small communities located in the shadow of factories experience
unusually high levels of toxic releases. Approximately three-quarters
of toxins linked to reproductive health problems were released
within just 10 ZIP Codes, according to the report.
nearly two-thirds of all dioxin emissions were concentrated
in just 10 ZIP Codes. Most of the hard-hit ZIP Codes were
in Southern states, including Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas
and Georgia. Residents can look up state-by-state maps by
visiting the group's Web site.
the report stopped short of examining if heavily polluted areas
face elevated disease rates, it could accelerate the push to study
the relationship between environmental factors and disease rates.
There are very few data available exploring these connections.
have the environmental data gathered by environmental agencies --
and we have a lot of health data," says Michael McGeehin of
the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "Yet it's never
been brought together where you could easily look at the linkages
between the two."
concern in the medical community is starting to change that. While
cancer has long been linked to environmental factors, doctors believe
environmental factors may play a role in dozens of other diseases,
including multiple sclerosis and lupus. In addition, recent highly
publicized studies showing high rates of asthma and breast cancer
in certain areas of New York have added to the interest in exploring
faces several proposals to create a national health-tracking network
that would assess links between geography and disease. Last March,
legislation was introduced in both houses to create a Nationwide
Health Tracking network to monitor the occurrence of chronic diseases
and their potential relationship to environmental factors. The bill
is backed by a coalition of Democrats, including Sen. Hilary Rodham
Clinton of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
The bill was never taken up last session, but plans are under way
to reintroduce it early this year.
year, the CDC increased its efforts to study the links between environmental
factors and disease, after Congress appropriated $17.5 million in
grants for the project. The current Senate appropriations budget
would increase funding for the CDC health-tracking projects to $32