Albion Monitor /News

EPA Names Top U.S. Polluters

by Pratap Chatterjee

Dupont emitted 9,250 tons of toxic waste

(IPS) SAN FRANCISCO-- Chemical manufacturer Dupont and mining giant Asarco are the top U.S. polluters, annually pumping thousands of tons of toxic waste in the air, water and land, according to the latest figures released by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Delaware-based Dupont is one of the largest companies in the world, with 1995 revenues of $42.2 billion. In addition to the United States, the company maintains manufacturing sites in Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela.

In 1994, the latest year for which data is available, Dupont had 70 manufacturing sites around this country which emitted 9,250 tons of toxic waste. Dupont plants in Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas top the list of polluting sites.

New York-based Asarco, a mining company with 1995 revenues of $3.2 billion, works mostly in this country, but it also operates a major copper smelter in Ilo, southern Peru, and has shares in several Mexican mining companies.

Asarco had 11 sites that emitted 3,150 tons of toxic waste in 1994, according to the EPA. High up on that list were its two copper smelters in Arizona and Texas and its lead smelting facility in Montana.

Injecting up to 3.5 million liters daily into underground limestone formations

Overall, about one million tons of toxic pollutants were emitted from 22,744 industrial facilities in 1994, according to the EPA, which bases its report on figures companies are required to file under federal law and which are not audited by the agency.

Another 1.7 tons of waste, the EPA reported, were "transferred" off site.

The manufacturing sites that top the EPA list have long been the focus of environmental activism in host communities. A prime example is the Dupont manufacturing plant in New Johnsonville, Tennessee, which the EPA says is one of the top dozen U.S. polluters.

The Dupont facility, located about 225 kilometers north-east of Memphis, is the world's largest manufacturers of titanium dioxide, a pigment used in products from paint to toothpaste.

When it was opened in the 1950s, the operators simply pumped the acidic iron-chloride waste into the Tennessee River. But in 1967, regulations were tightened and the company began to inject its waste, up to 3.5 million liters daily, into limestone formations more than a kilometer below the earth's surface.

The full impact of this practice has not been determined, but local environmental groups worry that it threatens the local drinking water.

John Sherman, from the Tennessee Environment Council (TEC), campaigned against the facility, arguing that the underground injection of waste is "one of the crudest ways of managing waste that anyone can think of."

Dupont spokeswoman Lori Fennimore disagrees. "Dupont continues to believe that underground injection wells are safer than virtually all other waste disposal practices. Even so Dupont is on track to eliminate deep-well disposal by the year 2000, or verify that the waste has become non-hazardous," she says.

Alan Jones, TEC executive director, says that he was pleased to hear about Dupont's plans to stop the deep-well injections. "I think they changed their minds because the company board did not enjoy the reputation. They told us that they now plan to treat the waste above ground with soda ash to neutralize it."

But Jones says that he has no idea whether the 28 years of waste that now lie deep underground may eventually seep into community drinking water supplies and threaten public health.

In 1985, the state underground injection monitoring program was shut down for lack of funds

Scientific uncertainty also clouds the impact of the Asarco copper smelter in Hayden, Arizona, some 80 kilometers east of Phoenix. But here health problems are much more obvious.

Asarco's Ray complex in Hayden, which was set up in 1912, emits sulphur dioxide and arsenic from its smokestacks in addition to producing large quantities of slag, a waste material from the smelting process which also contains arsenic.

State authorities first realized there was a problem in 1984 when they detected high arsenic levels in an abandoned jail located just a few blocks west of the smelter, which is also is on the EPA list of top dozen polluters. Arsenic levels in the building were 165 times the maximum level recommended by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Additionally, a 1990 Health Services study showed that lung cancer rates in Hayden are 50 percent higher than in Tucson and Phoenix, the two major cities in the state.

Donald Noyes, a spokesperson for the company in New York, says that the study was based simply on a survey of death certificates and that new studies conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, which the company financed, show that the causes of lung cancer are more complex.

"The Health Services study did not take into account other factors like smoking and how long the people had lived in the area," he said. Noyes was not sure if the new data has been published.

But smelter workers say that the figures are probably too low. "You had to be dead before they would count you. And they ignored other types of cancer. Folks around here have, or had, cancer of the bone, throat, kidney, liver stomach and prostate," says Vince Cruz, who worked at the plant for 23 years.

There are some similarities in the New Johnsonville and Hayden cases. Both companies have run their facilities for decades without proper permits because the environmental agencies took years to decide on the pollution control regulations at the sites.

In the New Johnsonville case, arguments over underground injection have lasted 25 years. Worse still, two years after Tennessee officials issued rules in 1985, the state underground injection monitoring program was shut down for lack of funds.

The Hayden smelter has been operating without a proper permit since March 1985, when its last valid permit expired. The EPA have the legal authority to force the company to measure arsenic emissions.

New environmental regulations governing the emission of arsenic were issued in 1986, but the company and the permitting agency could not agree on how to emissions should be measured. Since then, the EPA has issued new regulations but these will not be come into effect until the year 2000.

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Albion Monitor August 27, 1996 (

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