U.S. Map of Cancer-Causing Industrial Air Pollution

Short of getting dealt the best genetics hand, a cancer diagnosis over one’s lifetime is practically inescapable in the U.S.

Anyone living with cancer, or hoping to prevent it, needs to know the facts about what’s happening with the environmental toxic stew affecting our air, waterways, food chain, and the land on which we grow food, graze animals, and build our homes.

My recent post reintroducing readers to MD Anderson’s Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, and his paper titled Taking Precautions Against Cancer-Causing Toxins, was the first of several articles to be introduced over the coming weeks on the topic of environmental toxicity.

For now, I want to share some recent news that’s literally taking our collective breath away.

Carcinogens are in the Air

The current levels of cancer-causing industrial air pollution and its unimpeded trajectory should cause serious alarm for us all.

This is of special concern for those living in certain zip codes. As is often the case in situations where there is marginalization of populations, people of color are disproportionately affected, as many live in less affluent areas where industry and factories predominate. These areas have become known as ‘sacrifice zones’. But these are far from the only affected areas.

The Environmental Protection Agency is apparently suffering a mix of budgetary constraints, antiquated processes, and ineptitude. It’s as if the EPA is turning an intentional blind eye to ‘protect’ large corporations by allowing them to self-report their emissions instead of ‘protecting’ you and me—the tax-paying citizenry with a fundamental and inalienable right to clean air.

The foundation of population health has already been torn at its roots thanks to COVID-19 (with more variants and pathogens to come). In addition, this increasingly toxic environmental challenge does not bode well for the human condition. For example: one notable chemical which has run amok in our air is hexavalent chromium, well known to cause lung, nasal and sinus cancers.

Those who are already confronted with asthmatic and respiratory challenges, or who are otherwise immunocompromised, or have compromised respiratory systems, are most at-risk from these environmental insults.

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Specific to air pollution, we each need to know:

  • What exact pollutants are in the air.
  • How the presence of pollutants are being monitored and recorded.
  • Who is responsible for polluting, and who is responsible for policing polluters.
  • What’s being done about the polluters; how are they being penalized.
  • How close we live to the worst U.S. hot-spots.

ProPublica is our best and most reliable source of investigative journalism specific to race, the environment, and health equity.  The widely-trusted and revered nonprofit newsroom recently embarked on an ambitious project to develop the most detailed map ever of cancer-causing industrial air pollution in the U.S.

Enter your address or zip code to see the hot spot(s) closest to you. It’s available here.

The Backstory

For years, ProPublica has been on a fact-finding and data collection mission that has uncovered mass deficiencies in how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) captures industrial air pollution emissions data.

During the last several weeks, as they announced the launch of the above mentioned map, ProPublica published these eye opening investigative journalism pieces:

What’s Polluting the Air? Not Even the EPA Can Say.

This piece is an excellent and well-written investigative report which cites an example of an error (turned out to be in the environment’s favor) by Boeing in which an incorrect, highly elevated number was reported to the EPA, an alarm the EPA did not act on.  It highlights the need for regulators to be, well, active regulators (so that when a number is massively inflated—in the cited case, incorrectly—there is action). The example clearly indicates the EPA dropped the ball while the industry was complying, so imagine if they weren’t.

How Black Communities Become “Sacrifice Zones” for Industrial Air Pollution (co-published with Mountain State Spotlight)

The piece expresses the blatant potential for disaster, and focuses on existing health issues, which are caused by chemical valleys, garbage dumps, and decades of companies pumping out pollutants. Well sourced, the publication centers on jarring health statistics regarding geographical locations of communities where people of color reside. Fact-laden with historical accuracy, it holds a powerful message about how certain populations continue to be marginalized.

A Plant That Sterilizes Medical Equipment Spews Cancer-Causing Pollution on Tens of Thousands of Schoolchildren (co-published with the Texas Tribune)

In an uncomfortable twist, a company which sterilizes medical instruments—i.e., tools used to save lives—creates a toxic environment, polluting communities in its region. How the hell does this even happen?

ProPublica illustrates the lack of ‘interest’, ‘investment’, and ‘initiation to engage’ by the EPA and relevant parties. Well written, totally comprehendible—this isn’t hard to understand chemistry. This piece, like all of ProPublica’s content, is accessible to all and should be required reading for all of us interested in the truth. It’s essential for all to full understand the uphill battle ahead to reclaim our inalienable right to clean unadulterated air.

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Photo credit: bigstockphoto.com/eric_1513