Local Commentaries
2:30 pm
Wed May 12, 2010

Bill Knight - May 13

Macomb, IL – A new list of the top corporate air polluters in the United States includes three companies with high profiles in west-central Illinois, according to researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The "Toxic 100 Air Polluters" include Caterpillar (#96), Ameren (#99) and Archer-Daniels-Midland (#7), say the findings from Amherst's Political Economy Research Institute.

Professor James Boyce, co-director of Amherst's Corporate Toxics Information Project, said, "The Toxic 100 Air Polluters informs consumers and shareholders which large corporations release the most toxic pollutants into our air. We assess not just how many pounds of pollutants are released, but which are the most toxic and how many people are at risk. People have a right to know about toxic hazards to which they are exposed. Legislators need to understand the effects of pollution on their constituents."

The index is based on air releases of hundreds of chemicals from industrial facilities across the country. The rankings take into account not only the quantity of releases, but also the toxicity of chemicals, transport factors such as prevailing winds and height of smokestacks, and the number of people exposed.

For the first time, this list includes information on the risk from industrial air toxics for minorities and low-income communities. The list relies on the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Risk Screening Environmental Indicators, which measure the chronic human health risk from industrial toxic releases.

The underlying data is the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory, for which facilities report their own releases of toxic chemicals. The Toxic 100 Air Polluters ranks corporations based on the chronic human health risk from all of their U.S. polluting facilities.

Minorities make up 38% of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau, and the percentage of Americans living in poverty is 13% of the population. The study shows that ADM, Ameren and Cat don't unfairly burden the poor or minorities compared to other polluters.

Minorities shoulder just 25% of Cat's air toxin risk and low-income Americans 12%. Minorities endure 19% of Ameren's air toxin risk and low-income people 9%. Minorities bear 28.7% of ADM's air toxin risks and the poor 21.7%.

Breaking down the three area corporations' situations, ADM released 11 million pounds of toxic air pollution in 34 locations, including Galesburg, Peoria, Decatur, two in Quincy, and Clinton, Iowa. Ameren released almost 7 million pounds at 11 sites, including Bartonville, Canton and Meredosia. And Caterpillar released 310,000 pounds at 17 places, including Peoria, East Peoria, Decatur, Mapleton and Mossville.

Professor Michael Ash, co-director of the Corporate Toxics Information Project, said, "In making this information available, we are building on the achievements of the right-to-know movement. Our goal is to engender public participation in environmental decision-making, and to help residents translate the right to know into the right to clean air."

Cat spokeswoman Kate Kenny said they're not familiar with the study or its methodology and can't comment on its accuracy or conclusions.

Ameren's Director of Corporate Communications, Susan Gallagher, said, "The study seems to be based on 2006 Toxic Release Inventory data. Since 2006, Ameren subsidiaries have installed a range of environmental controls at our Illinois and Missouri plants. Ameren plants are, in fact, among the leaders in the nation in reducing emissions.

"Since 1990 AEG [Ameren Energy Generating Co.] has reduced its [sulfur dioxide] emissions rate by 82 percent and its [nitrogen oxide] emissions rate by 84 percent," she continued. "Since the late 1970s, Ameren has improved particulate collection to the point that the company is collecting more than 99 percent of all particulate emissions from the stacks of its plants."