Nationwide, hundreds of millions of pounds of chemicals linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive problems, respiratory illnesses, and neurological disorders are released into the atmosphere each year, according to a new report prepared by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group (MaryPIRG). These toxic chemicals have been linked to severe health problems.
In Maryland, 8,226,498 pounds of toxic chemicals linked to neurological disorders were released in the year 2000, the most recent year for which data have been collected. Anne Arundel and Charles Counties ranked in the top 50 among counties nationwide for air pollution linked to respiratory illnesses. Anne Arundel County ranked 15th, with more than 12 million pounds of toxins released, and Charles County followed with more than 7 million pounds of toxic emissions.
MaryPIRG’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, broken down 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.
In Maryland, Baltimore City zip code 21226, which includes Hawkins Point Road and is home to the nation’s largest medical waste incinerator, ranked 11th in the nation for toxic pollution linked to devastating respiratory illnesses. “During the years 1987-2000, this area in Baltimore City accounted for 37% of the total respiratory air toxicants emitted in the state,” said Terry Harris, president of the Cleanup Coalition. “This single zip code area spewed more than 12 million pounds of emissions into our air.”
MaryPIRG’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. Maryland does track for cancer and birth defects, but does not systematically track for asthma.
While the chemicals covered in this study were linked to various serious health consequences, the report covered less than one percent of the estimated 80,000 chemicals on the market today. MaryPIRG points out that U.S. law 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,” the report states.
MaryPIRG lauded Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) for supporting legislation introduced last session 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.