Report: EPA top 100 polluters impacting low income, minority neighborhoods

Posted at 10:22 PM, Mar 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-04 13:23:29-05

CLEVELAND — The United Church of Christ issued a 40-page report outlining the impact the top 100 polluters are having on low income/minority neighborhoods across the United States.

The reportwas prepared by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, which was established in March of 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws.

The report utilized 2018 EPA data to show the effect the top 100 polluters are having on communities within an one mile radius of these industrial operations and what types of emission are being put into the air near densely populated inner-city and low income neighborhoods.

Rev. Brooks Berndt, Minister for Environmental Justice with United Church of Christ, told News 5 the data indicates the top 100 polluters account for 39% of the potentially toxic emissions being released across the country.

Berndt said even though 81% of the top 100 polluters are in compliance with EPA standards, he believes the chemicals and heavy metals being put into the air are having a negative impact on children in communities near these facilities.

Nineteen of the plants are listed by the EPA as high priority violators.

Berndt said the data also shows that neighborhoods near these facilities, are on average, made up of residents who are more than 40% low income and minorities, well above the national average.

He believes the EPA needs to do more to protect these vulnerable communities.

“We issued this report about the very real and serious threats children face,” Berndt said.

“We’ve all heard about how lead impacts the small developing bodies of children, we’re talking about heavy metals like lead, we’re talking about chromium, copper, nickel, these things are being pumped into the air.”

“Are people being harmed, yes they’re being harmed. Does something need to happen, yes something needs to happen.”

“So we need to hold our public officials, the Environmental Protection Agency accountable so that the public is not harmed.”

“Power equals protection and in our society often that power is racialized, it has to do with class, it has to do with income.”

Ward 7 Cleveland Councilman Basheer Jones said he has one of the top 100 polluters in his ward.

Jones said the report is extremely concerning and he plans to see what can be done to protect children and improve the policing of emissions from these plants.

“This is environmental racism," Jones said.

“Young people who are still growing, brains that are still being developed, what impact does that have on the prefrontal cortex, where brains are still trying to figure things out.”

“I’m going to be working with the director of health for the city, I’m going to be talking with the Mayor,"

"I’m going to be reaching out to the Governor and say listen, 'this is something that we can allow to continue to happen.'"

News 5 contacted the EPA and asked if it believes its enforcement is stringent enough to protect the public, and what steps does it take in following up with the companies on the top 100 list.

The EPA issued the following statement pledging to continue to follow-up on all locations in the top 100 polluters list.

"The Clean Air Act (CAA) directs EPA to regulate toxic air pollutants from categories of industrial facilities in two phases. The first phase is “technology-based,” where EPA develops standards for controlling the emissions of air toxins from sources in an industry group or "source category.”

These maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards are based on emissions levels that are already being achieved by the best-controlled and lowest emitting sources in an industry. EPA has established National Emission Standards to control air emissions of over 180 toxic air pollutants from over 100 industrial source categories.

Within eight years of setting the MACT standards, the Clean Air Act directs EPA to assess the remaining health risks from each source category to determine whether the MACT standards protect public health with an ample margin of safety and protect against adverse environmental effects.

This second phase is a “risk-based” approach called residual risk. Here, EPA must determine whether more health-protective standards are necessary. Also, every eight years after setting MACT standards, the CAA requires EPA to review and revise the standards, if necessary, to account for improvements in air pollution controls and/or prevention. EPA is in the process of reviewing the initial set of emission standards to evaluate residual risk and the availability of technology improvements.

Those facilities listed in the report either have been or will be covered by these follow-up reviews."

News 5 has decide not to name the top 100 polluters in this report, since the vast majority of them are within current EPA compliance.

Berndt hopes the EPA will take action as soon as possible.

We should have facilities that don’t hurt children, and put harmful pollutants into the air,” Berndt said.

“So we need to hold our public officials, the Environmental Protection Agency accountable, so that the public is not harmed.”