New Report Links Toxic Pollution with Health Hazards as EPA Acts to Restrict Pollution Data

Media Contacts
Brad Ashwell

Florida PIRG

TALLAHASSEE  – Exposure to dangerous toxic pollution from industrial facilities threatens communities all across Florida, according to a new report.

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 Florida.

Facilities in Florida released to the air and water more than 2,700,000 pounds of toxic chemicals known to cause cancer, making Florida the 5th highest state in terms of carcinogen emissions in 2004.

“This report confirms that communities in Florida are routinely put at risk by toxic pollution linked to serious health impacts,” said Florida PIRG advocate Brad Ashwell. “These toxic pollutants are the worst of the worst and pose tangible threats to public health that must be addressed.”

“To address the potential health threats from toxic pollution, the public needs full information about what toxics are being released, where, and in what amounts,” said Lois Gibbs, Executive Director of the Center for Health and Environmental Justice.  “Unfortunately, EPA’s attack on the public’s right to know means that communities across Florida will be left in the dark about toxic pollution.”

Florida also ranked 7th nationally in terms of states with the highest emissions of suspected neurotoxins and dioxins, dangerous and persistent chemicals that increase the likelihood of cancer and other debilitating effects. Florida also ranked 12th for states with the highest releases of suspected reproductive toxicants, as well as 21st for states with the highest releases of suspected developmental toxicants, which affect young children.

Florida exemplifies the report’s finding that a relatively small number of communities often experience the bulk of these toxicant emissions. Seven Florida zip codes account for nearly 2,000,000 pounds—about a 75% share—of cancer causing chemicals released in the state. All seven zip codes rank in the top 100 zip codes nationwide for cancer causing chemicals, with Bryant ranking 4th; Clewiston, 35th; Perry, 45th; Orlando, 51st; Fernandina Beach, 59th; Panama City, 76th; and Cantonment, 88th.

In 2004, Palm Beach County ranked 8th nationally for total air and water releases of toxic pollution known to cause cancer, 15th nationally for reproductive toxicants and 55th for developmental toxicants.  The largest source of this pollution came from the United States Sugar Corporation facility in Bryant, Florida which released more than 700,000 pounds of carcinogens into the air and water. The US Sugar facility ranked third highest in the nation for highest emissions of carcinogens into the air and water.

Florida contributes seven counties to the national top 100 list in this category: Palm Beach, 8th; Nassau County, 46th; Hendry County, 48th; Taylor County, 57th; Bay County, 60th; Orange County, 64th; and Escambia County, 88th.

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.

Florida Representatives Robert Wexler (Boca Raton) and Kathy Castor (Tampa) recently joined in challenging EPA’s rollbacks by co-sponsoring the Toxic Right-to-Know Protection Act (H.R. 1055).  This legislation 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 Florida’s entire congressional delegation to support the public’s right to know and protect communities across Florida by cosponsoring this legislation,” concluded Ashwell.