We asked Republican William D. Ruckelshaus, the Environmental Protection Agency’s first and fifth administrator, why administration after administration has failed to curb dangerous forms of air pollution.
Recent legislation would leave many communities vulnerable to airborne chemicals, among them Chester, Pa. “They told me a long time ago that I should move,” said Elwood Patrick, pictured above, “and I wish I had.”
Laureldale, Pa. is among hundreds of communities threatened by airborne chemicals that a Democratic Congress and a Republican president agreed more than two decades ago needed to be controlled. For decades, a local factory showered the area with lead, a metal that even at low levels can impair brain function and development, especially in infants and young children.
A Kansas community grows fiercely divided over a cement plant's permission to exceed emissions of hazardous waste incinerators - all allowed under federal rules. The plant can legally emit greater amounts of mercury, lead, cadmium, hydrogen chloride and other toxic chemicals than the special incinerators that burned waste from Love Canal and Times Beach.
This multimedia investigative series, Poisoned Places, is the result of that nine-month effort. Stories and video mini-documentaries — many featuring what has happened and not happened in communities across the country since the Clean Air Act amendments of 21 years ago — will appear during the next few weeks and into 2012.
The Poisoned Places series relied on analysis of four datasets relating to sources of air pollution regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: the Clean Air Act watch list, the Air Facility System (AFS), the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and the Risk Screening Environmental Indicators model (RSEI).
The Clean Air Act watch list
The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News and NPR obtained the “watch list” through a Freedom of Information Act request to the EPA. Two versions of the list were obtained: one current as of July 2011, the other as of September 2011.
While these facilities are regulated by the states and the EPA, not all facilities report to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI); certain criteria must be met.
Further research indicated that two of these facilities are under construction, two are temporarily closed and nine are permanently closed. Additionally, not all were flagged in the data as high priority violators (HPVs) as of August 2011. iWatch News and NPR placed watch list facilities into industry categories and used the primary four-digit Standard Industrial Code; data entry for the more current North American Industry Code System was not as consistent.