The Alliance For A Clean Environment
Polluting Our Future: Chemical Pollution in the U.S. that Affects Child Development and Learning
A joint report released by:
Clean Air Council
National Environmental Trust
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Learning Disabilities Association of America
In 1998 (the most recent year for which records are available), U.S. companies reported to the federal Toxics Release Inventory that they released slightly more than 1.2 billion pounds of chemicals that are classified as known or suspected developmental or neurological toxins into the nation's air and water. These are chemicals that have the potential to affect the way a fetus or a child's body and brain develops, substances that could cause premature and low birthweight births, birth defects, and learning and behavioral disabilities. The overwhelming majority of chemicals in use has never been tested for specific effects on the physical and brain development of children. More than half (53%) of all toxic chemical releases reported to the federal Toxics Release Inventory are known or suspected developmental toxins or neurotoxins.
Because fewer than 1% of chemicals in commerce require reporting of their emissions, the emissions reported to the government account for only an estimated 5% (by weight) of all chemical releases in the country. Using this estimate and assuming that--like for reported chemicals--approximately half of all emissions are developmental or neurological toxins, total estimated releases of these substances to air and water could be as high as 24 billion pounds released annually.
Click here for State Rankings and Top 100 Counties for Releases of Developmental and Neurological Toxins
The chemical manufacturing industry is the single largest industrial source of developmental and neurological toxin emissions (to air and water) in the U.S. Other industries that contribute substantial quantities of developmental and neurological toxin emissions are the paper, primary metal, plastics, transportation equipment, and electric power-generating industries.
The printing industry is the largest source of air emissions of toluene, a highly released developmental and neurological toxin. Since many printing facilities are small- to medium-sized firms that are often closer to residential areas than other industrial facilities, this industry is potentially of major concern to child health.
Click here for Top Industries and Facilities for Air and Water Releases of Developmental and Neurological Toxins
The top developmental and neurological toxins are used in common industrial processes. Only three substances account for 97% of all pollution from developmental toxins. The toxins with the highest releases were toluene (a common degreaser and solvent, linked to fetal toxicity), carbon disulfide (used to manufacture synthetic fibers, linked to fetal toxicity), and benzene (widely used in manufacturing and as a component in gasoline, linked to developmental delays).
Click here for Top 20 Developmental Toxins Released to Air and Water (of 45 total)
The most released neurotoxins were methanol (used in paper manufacturing, linked to nerve damage and blindness), ammonia (used in much chemical manufacturing, linked to memory loss), toluene (linked to confusion, memory loss, and other neurological effects at both high and low levels), hydrogen fluoride (used in manufacturing and as a cleaner, linked to nerve damage), xylene (used as a solvent and cleaning agent, linked to impaired memory and muscle coordination) and n-hexane (industrial solvent, also used to refine vegetable oil, linked to nerve damage).
Click here for Top 20 Neurotoxins Released to Air and Water (of 278 total)
Potentially Disproportionate Impacts on African American Children. Children from minority or low-income communities are typically at greater risk of exposure to toxic substances. African American, Hispanic, and Native American children are over-represented in the three to four million children (one out of every four American children) who live within one mile of a National Priorities List hazardous waste site. A number of studies have demonstrated increased levels of premature births in communities that are proximate to hazardous waste sites or facilities. 15 Several studies have confirmed racial disparities in the citing of industrial and hazardous waste facilities.
Beyond these statistics, children from low-income neighborhoods and living in poorly maintained housing, for example, have a higher level of exposure to lead from flaking lead-based paint. Moreover, many children who attend dilapidated schools or live in distressed housing often find themselves in pest-ridden environments where chemical pesticides are frequently applied.
An analysis of the top counties in the U.S. for releases of developmental toxins also reveals a disproportionate impact on a minority group--in this case African Americans. Since emissions of neurotoxins are much more pervasive than those of developmental toxins, this analysis focused on the top 25 counties for releases of developmental toxins. Because that group of counties was responsible for the release of 46% of all the reported developmental toxins in the country, looking at the top counties provides a meaningful snapshot of where a significant proportion of this class of toxins is released.
This analysis reveals that African American populations in 14 of 25 of the top releasing counties exceed the U.S. average. In other words, African Americans are over-represented in many of the counties most polluted by developmental toxins.
Click here for Top 25 Counties for Air Emissions of Developmental Toxins and African American Population Figures
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