Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers



Wall Street Journal
24 January 2003

Group Uses U.S. Zip Codes To Map Industrial Pollutants


An environmental-activist group is using ZIP codes to deliver bad news about toxic pollutants.

The 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.

The 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.

Companies 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.

The 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.

The 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.

U.S. 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.

Some 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.

Similarly, 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.


While 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.

"We 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."

Growing 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 environmental links.

Congress 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.

Last 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 million.





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