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Naming ‘Toxic 100’ air polluters, United Church of Christ calls for action

February 26, 2020 GMT
United Church of Christ Logo (PRNewsfoto/United Church of Christ)
United Church of Christ Logo (PRNewsfoto/United Church of Christ)

CLEVELAND, Feb. 26, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- A U.S. map dotted with factory icons, unveiled online today, invites the public to see if the air they breathe contains toxic emissions from any of 100 “super polluters” in 28 states – facilities with thousands of children living near them.

The publisher of the map, the United Church of Christ, is encouraging people to click on it, see lists of chemicals being emitted near them and call on their elected representatives to stop the pollution – and to fight federal rollbacks in environmental protections.

Armed with data from a respected research firm, the UCC posted the map at a new website, ucc.org/breathtothepeople, along with a detailed study listing these “super polluters” in heavily populated areas. Its title: “Breath to the People: Sacred Air and Toxic Pollution.”

Church leaders unveiled the evidence at an Ash Wednesday news conference in Washington, D.C. The map shows clusters of these “Toxic 100” polluters in such areas as Houston, Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” and the southeast shore of Lake Erie.

Some 113,000 children under age 5 – the most vulnerable population because of their developing bodies – live within three miles of the listed facilities, according to the report.

“Parents have no idea what their children are breathing, let alone the kids that play near them,” said Yvette Arellano of Houston, which has the largest cluster of polluters on the map. “Sometimes moms will take their children inside because it smells a very specific way. They don’t know exactly what’s affecting their kids, but they do know it’s dangerous.”

“Children are particularly vulnerable to toxic air pollution because their brains, their bodies, their lungs, all of their organs are still growing and developing,” said Dr. Kristie Ross, a Cleveland pediatric pulmonologist, who did not work on the report but was asked to comment on pollution and kids in a prerecorded video. “And when you expose somebody to a poison, like air pollution is, it can impact all of those things.”

The report was produced by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonpartisan watchdog that the UCC enlisted for the study. EIP based its research on self-reported data from the 15,500 facilities nationwide that are included in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory. “Our analysis shows that over a third of all toxic emissions nationwide came from just 100 facilities that have at least 250 people living within a mile,” the researchers said in the report. In ranking the Toxic 100, researchers evaluated both the density of nearby populations and the toxicity of emissions.

“We took the title of this study, ‘Breath to the People,’ from the Book of Isaiah because we believe clean air is a gift from God,” said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, UCC associate general minister. “So are our precious children. They, like all people, deserve clean air to breathe. Local, state and federal authorities and the polluters themselves must act now to rid the air of toxic chemicals.”

A UCC action alert at the report’s website urged citizens to “call on Congress to speak out against rollbacks of critical environmental protections by the administration, conduct meaningful oversight over violations of existing toxic air standards, and support robust funding for the EPA.”

Among the ministers speaking at the news conference was one representing the UCC’s heritage of environmental justice, the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. He led the UCC’s Commission for Racial Justice at the time of its groundbreaking 1987 report, “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States.” More than 30 years later, it is still cited by journalists and academics.

CONTACT: Connie Larkman, larkmanc@ucc.org, 216-496-5540

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SOURCE United Church of Christ