Tuesday, November 8, 2011

'Poisoned Places' in the Charlotte area

Posted By on Tue, Nov 8, 2011 at 8:25 AM

Not much is being done to protect our drinking water or air, according to a National Public Radio and Center for Public Integrity report on environmental issues. The startling thing: Congress and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency are slow to move even on problems they know about.

To accompany the report, NPR and the CPI have created an interactive map so you can zoom in on areas of the country that interest you. Click on the map below, which is zoomed in to the greater Charlotte area.

Zoom in on Charlotte. Click the image to interact with the map.
  • Courtesy of NPR
  • Zoom in on Charlotte. Click the image to interact with the map.

Here's a snippet from the first of a four-part series airing on NPR this week:

The system Congress set up 21 years ago to clean up toxic air pollution still leaves many communities exposed to risky concentrations of benzene, formaldehyde, mercury and many other hazardous chemicals.

Pollution violations at more than 1,600 plants across the country were serious enough that the government believes they require urgent action, according to an analysis of EPA data by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity. Yet nearly 300 of those facilities have been considered "high priority violators" of the Clean Air Act by the Environmental Protection Agency for at least a decade.

About a quarter of those 1,600 violators are on an internal EPA "watch list," which the agency has kept secret until now.

EPA estimates facilities across the country emitted 40 percent fewer toxic emissions in 2005 than they did in 1990, but toxic air pollution has persisted ...

The EPA's 'Watch List'

The Bush administration's EPA faced criticism for not being tough enough on chronic polluters, so in 2004 it created a confidential watch list to manage the problem.

According to EPA reports, when regulators don't crack down within nine months of learning that a facility is a chronic or serious violator of the rules, the facility automatically pops onto the watch list.

Nakayama says one reason the agency made the list secret was to avoid tipping off offenders that were being criminally investigated.

"There are also violators out there that are really interested in gaming the system, beating the system, and anything that gives them forewarning I think would not be helpful," Nakayama says.

The agency released its most recent watch lists to NPR and the Center for Public Integrity in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Giles said the EPA plans to start sharing the watch list with the public later this year. It's not clear why officials decided to change their policy and release the watch list.

The September list includes 383 power plants, refineries, chemical plants and other industrial facilities. Half of those plants are in six states: Ohio, Texas, Illinois, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Indiana. Forty-seven of those facilities had been added to the watch list since July 2011.

Read or listen to the rest of the segment here, and tune in this week for the remainder of the series either online or via WFAE 90.7, Charlotte's local NPR affiliate.

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