Around 1.6 million people live within three miles, and nearly 170,000 within one mile, of the top 100 toxic emission facilities in the U.S., according to a United Church of Christ report published Feb. 27.
Nearly 12,000 children lived within one mile and more than 112,000 within three miles of these facilities.
Analyzing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air pollution data for 15,500 U.S. facilities in 2018, the report found that 100 facilities produced 39% of all toxic emissions nationwide.
Almost 25% of the emissions from these 100 facilities were due to “fugitive emissions” (leaks), which encompass anything emitted outside of specified channels, such as smokestacks.
These 100 facilities emit the highest levels of chemicals that can do the most harm if inhaled, not necessarily the highest overall emission levels.
The top three facilities for toxic emissions were located in Jefferson County, Texas, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, and Ascension Parish, Louisiana, and “26 of the Toxic 100 facilities were in violation of the Clean Air Act in 2018.”
“The Toxic 100,” as the report called these facilities, have anywhere from 250 people to 8,553 people living within a mile of their location.
“We analyzed the percentage of these populations that are vulnerable or disadvantaged – namely, people who are Hispanic, Latino or of color; low-income (defined as more than two times below the federal poverty level); under the age of 5; or over the age of 64. We then compared them to state averages calculated by the EPA,” the report said. “In total, percentages within a mile of 98 of the 100 facilities exceed state averages for one or more vulnerable population indicator.”
For example, 44% percent of residents living within a mile of these facilities were low-income.
The report was commissioned by UCC and conducted by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).
Based in D.C., EIP is a nonprofit launched in 2002 that, according to its website, “empowers communities and protects public health and the environment by investigating polluters, holding them accountable under the law and strengthening public policy.”
“That a religious denomination, the UCC, finds itself in the position of needing to monitor our nation’s growing toxic air problem and its impact on the most vulnerable communities speaks to the state of environmental justice in our country,” said Traci D. Blackmon and Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. in a Sojourners article about the report.
Blackmon is associate general minister of the United Church of Christ; Chavis is president and chief executive officer of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
“We believe the air we breathe is sacred. What we have here is not just a pollution problem or a regulatory problem – it is a moral problem,” they said.