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Congress releases air-toxics survey.

Congress releases air-toxics survey

Businesses spewed some 1.2 million tons of toxic pollutants into U.S. air during 1987, according to a preliminary Environmental Protection Agency inventory released last week by the House subcommittee on health and the environment. "The magnitude of this problem far exceeds our worst fears," says subcommittee chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.). These data, the first national compilation gathered under a new annual industry-reporting requirement that went into effect last July, cover 320 chemicals, including 60 listed as carcinogens by the National Toxicology Program.

The tallied pollutants include only those emitted in the basic manufacturing industries by firms employing at least 10 people. All businesses in the new survey create or process at least 75,000 pounds of a toxic chemical or use 10,000 pounds of a commercially available toxic chemical, such as solvents.

According to the survey, Texas leads the nation in toxic emissions, with about 115,000 tons. On the basis of toxic tonnage, none of the next seven states on the list -- Louisiana, Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois -- had even 60 percent of Texas' total.

The 10 most common toxic pollutants (by volume) accounted for roughly 65 percent of the national total. They were, in order: toluene, ammonia, acetone, methanol, carbon disulfide, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, methyl ethyl ketone, xylene, dichloromethane and chlorine. Dichloromethane is a potent carcinogen. Toluene, methyl ethyl ketone and xylene are neurotoxins. "We have not looked into the legality of the releases [reported here], although eventually we will," says EPA's David Sarokin. However, "it's not unreasonable to suppose that most of the releases are legitimately permitted."

Chemical firms lead the list of U.S. polluters, emitting more than four times as many tons of chemicals as the next most polluting industries -- metal smelters, paper producers and transportation equipment manufacturers. "In the past, EPA has opposed legislation that would tighten emissions from chemical plants because it regarded these emissions as relatively small," Waxman says. But the new data indicate this industry's releases are 10 times as high as figures reported to his subcommittee in 1985 -- ones that he recalls were "widely criticized as inflated by industry spokesmen" at the time.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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