Austin, Texas –Exposure to dangerous toxic pollution from industrial facilities threatens communities in Texas and across the country, according to a new report released today by Environment Texas. A coalition of groups called on the Texas legislature and congress to take steps to protect the public’s right to know and to reduce emissions.
The report, Toxic Pollution and Health, uses information from the federal Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) to analyze toxic pollution linked to serious health problems such as cancer, birth defects or neurological damage. Due to a recent EPA action restricting the public’s right-to-know, today’s report may provide one of the last complete pictures of toxic pollution in Texas.
In 2004, Texas ranked number one for total air and water releases of toxic pollution known to cause cancer. The largest source of this pollution is the BP Texas City Refinery in Texas City, which released more than 2,086, 948 pounds of carcinogens to the air and water.
“This report confirms that communities across Texas are routinely put at risk by toxic pollution linked to serious health impacts,” said Liz Wilfong of Environment Texas. “These toxic pollutants are the worst of the worst and pose tangible threats to public health that must be addressed.”
The federal Toxic Release Inventory is a public right-to-know program that requires industrial facilities to publicly disclose their toxic releases. In 2004, EPA reported that the TRI has helped to reduce toxic pollution by 57% nationwide since its inception in 1988. Despite this success, the EPA recently weakened the program by authorizing industrial facilities to withhold previously reported pollution information.
“To address the potential health threats from toxic pollution, we need full information about what toxics are being released, where, and in what amounts,” said Wilfong. “Unfortunately, EPA’s attack on the public’s right-to-know means that Texas communities will be left in the dark about toxic pollution.”
State Legislators have already begun to take steps to reduce emissions in Texas. Representative Hernandez has recently filed House Bill 2363 which would require that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) implement an Air Pollution Watch List, which would identify areas of the state in which levels of known air contaminants may cause adverse health effects. A public notice system and public meetings would then supply the affected residents with information about air toxins in their area. "The public has a right to know what is in the air they breathe” said Hernandez, “and TCEQ, as the state's regulator of clean air, has a duty to make air quality data available to residents in a timely fashion."
Senator Ellis and Representative Hochberg have filed a related bill, (HB 2475 and SB 1906), which would regulate toxic hotspots under the Texas Clean Air Act. Such a bill would require that areas which exceed Interim Ambient Toxic Air Standards for priority toxic air contaminants be designated and publicized as hotspots, and require TCEQ to enforce emissions reductions until the standards are met. "Nobody should have to live in an environment where the air she breathes can increase her risk of getting cancer or other illnesses. By focusing on the particular areas where pollutants are concentrated, we can get the most benefit for the efforts that industry makes," said Representative Hochberg.
At the federal level, Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Boxer (D-CA), recently challenged EPA’s rollbacks by introducing the Toxic Right-to-Know Protection Act (H.R. 1055 and S. 595). This legislation, which has already been cosponsored by Texas Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Gene Green, would reverse the rollbacks to restore the lost data and ensure that communities have full and complete access to toxic pollution information.
“We call on Congress to support the public’s right to know and protect Texas’s communities by cosponsoring this legislation.”
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