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Luke Metzger,
Environment Texas

Texas Ranked 1st Nationwide in Toxic Pollution Linked to Cancer and Neurological Problems

Toxic Pollution Shifts From Rustbelt to Sunbelt, Southerners Face Health Impacts
For Immediate Release

CORPUS CHRISTI—Texas ranked 1st for pollution linked to cancer and neurological problems in the country according to a new report released today by TexPIRG. In Nueces County 437,450 pounds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer were released in 2000, the most recent year for which data have been collected. Since 1987, toxic pollution linked to serious health effects has shifted from the traditionally industrial northeast and midwest to the south and southeast.

TexPIRG's report, Toxic Releases and Health: A Review of Pollution Data and Current Knowledge on the Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals, is a first ever analysis by health effect of air and water releases reported by industry to the Toxic Release Inventory Program from 1987 to 2000. The review of these data demonstrates the degree to which toxic substances with links to serious health problems are released into the environment.

"Polluters in Texas discharge millions of pounds of toxic pollution while the people of Corpus Christi have no knowledge of how it is affecting their health," reports Marshall Stair, Field Organizer, with the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG).

In Texas, Nueces ranked 6th in the Texas and 40th in the nation for toxic pollution linked to cancer released in 2000. "All one has to do is look around our area to see that we are environmentally overburdened. These latest statistics continue to support our concern that people are being adversely impacted. We have hard data that reflects Nueces is statistically significantly elevated for various cancer sites as well as heart defects in babies." said Suzie Canales, Director, with Citizens for Environmental Justice.

National analysis of toxic pollution released between 1987 and 2000 showed that the dominant sources of pollution have shifted from the industrial Northeast and Midwest, "Rustbelt" to the south and Southeast "Sunbelt." Texas is one of thirteen states, stretching from North Carolina to New Mexico, with 48% of U.S. releases of carcinogens in 2000. The Sunbelt region was responsible for 78% of the reproductive toxic releases, 67% of the dioxin releases, and 59% of the developmental toxic releases in the U.S. in 2000.

· Polluters in Texas lead the Sunbelt and country releasing 8.7 million pounds of carcinogens in 2000 and 244 million from 1987-2000.

TexPIRG's research also showed that the public lacks information on how toxic pollution affects human health because few states track the public's exposure to toxic discharges or the rates of potentially related chronic diseases. Currently only three states, Massachusetts, California, and Iowa, have high-level cancer and birth defect registries and systematically track asthma. No state in the nation systematically tracks such other chronic diseases as autism, and no state tracks the potential environmental exposures linked with these chronic diseases. Texas began tracking birth defects statewide however had to scale back the program due to budget constraints.

"It is ridiculous that we do not have a better system for tracking these disease and their relationship to pollutants," said Zelma Champion, the former Community Chairperson for PACE Union and local resident. "I have lived here for 32 years and could not name 20 houses in my neighborhood of 300 where someone has not died of cancer in the last twenty years," continued Champion.

While the chemicals covered in this study were linked to various serious health consequences, this report covered less than one percent of the estimated 80,000 chemicals on the market today. U.S. law also makes it difficult for a chemical that poses a health threat to be banned or restricted. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has only restricted the use of nine toxic chemicals out of the thousands that potentially pose a danger to human health.

During 2002, Congress approved funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to award 20 grants to state and municipal public health departments to either improve or initiate health-tracking programs in those cities and states. Texas was not one of the states that received a grant. During the 107th Congress, the Senate awarded an increase in funding for these health-tracking programs, but the House failed to approve the relevant Appropriations bill. The Senate will be required to reconsider the funding for health tracking this month, and could increase funding to make more grants available to more states.

TexPIRG applauded Representative Gonzalez and Frost for co-sponsoring legislation in the 107th Congress introduced by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to set up a nationwide network for tracking chronic diseases. This network would expand the monitoring of human exposure to toxic chemicals as well as track chronic diseases such as asthma, cancer, birth defects and neurological conditions.