State and federal law permit industries small and large to discharge chemical wastes into creeks, streams and rivers. But they must make public many of the specific chemicals they release and their amounts. Here you can find out . . .
who are the polluters in your neighborhood?
Concerned Citizens' links to toxics information
Did you know that Cattaraugus County ranks among the worst 20% of counties in the U.S. in terms of (1) noncancer chemical exposure hazards and (2) pollution from animal waste?
Check out the data yourself with the Chemical Scorecard, an on-line environmental information program introduced by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), using data reported to the government by the polluters themselves. Just enter your zip code and you'll find the polluters in your neighborhood, and more: background on what is known and not known about the toxic effects of particular chemicals, how your community compares to others, and who you can contact to speak out.
You'll also find a virtual encyclopedia of information on toxics in your community, including links to reliable sources of additional information. Beware, however: only a small fraction of the over 60,000 man-made chemicals produced and discharged in various ways into the environment have ever been studied for their potentially toxic effects. There are only about 650 chemicals on the most commonly used public database, the Toxic Release Inventory. And more chemicals are produced each year than public health and environment agencies can review.
An explanation of EDF's Scorecard and other web sites (links are on the left) for finding toxics follows . . .
The Right-to-Know Network (RKT Net): provides free access to numerous databases, text files, and conferences on the environment, housing, and sustainable development. With the information available on RKT Net you can identify specific factories and their environmental effects, analyze reinvestment by banks in their communities, and assess people and communities affected.
Chemical Scorecard: Just enter your zip code from anywhere in the United States and EDF's interactive site reports a ranking of manufacturers in the area reporting toxic releases. Toxic substances reported are limited to the chemicals in the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). These substances must be reported by facilities that process or manufacture them.
ToxFAQs: this web site is maintained by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a federal agency associated with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). ATSDR's Toxicology Division has compiled summaries of a number of hazardous substances, starting with an alphabetical list and including links to further sources of information. The list goes beyond TRI chemicals.
EnviroLink: this a non-profit service listing over fifty major topics or categories of environmental information. Toxics are included.
Toxnet: provides access to a cluster of databases on toxicology, hazardous chemicals, and scientific reports and bibliographies. The databases include HSDB, CCRIS, GENE-TOX, IRIS, TRI, DART, EMIC and ChemID. Instruction manuals are provided.
U.S. EPA: EPA provides a number of web-based toxics-finders. TRI Explorer provides access to TRI data and links to other EPA finding tools. For example, EPA's Envirofacts also starts with a zip code and returns TRI chemicals in your neighborhood. But EPA's site provides a less comprehensive picture than does the Scorecard. See the detailed discussion below to understand the difference. EPA offers an excellent fact sheet called Chemicals in Your Community that includes a list (on p. 11) of links to navigate you through government web sites on toxic exposure. EPA's Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office contains a searchable database of chemicals found in individual communities, as well as ways to prevent chemical accidents. EPA's Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) is a database of potential adverse human health effects from chronic (or lifetime) exposure to specific chemical substances. EPA's Watershed Profile for the Upper Allegheny River: this web site provides interactive maps of each of the five watersheds of the Allegheny River, with links to EPA's Envirofacts database. These links allow you to identify facilities in Olean, Cuba, Salamanca, Bradford and elsewhere in the region that are discharging toxics, to map their exact location, to determine whether the discharge is off site or into the local environment, and to learn specific information about the chemicals being discharged and their amounts. Web pages on individual facilities allow you to submit your own report to the EPA on discrepancies in the information you may know about. If you live within a major watershed anywhere in the U.S., this is the site for you.
National Academy Press: for the more technically inclined, this site offers free searchable books on the latest science and toxicology, as well as host of additional categories of science and public health studies. For an excellent study of the limits of our knowledge of toxic environmental exposure and health hazards, and what needs to be done to improve research and education in this area, see the Institute of Medicine's Toward Environmental Justice (1999).
Search the Federal Register: many federal agencies must scrutinize potentially hazardous substances and the results of their work is often included in notices to the public in the Federal Register. Pesticides are a particularly good example of substances for which notices are posted almost daily. This site allows you to search by year and keyword, so it's very efficient if you know the chemical name of a hazardous substance.
UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CHEMICAL SCORECARD AND EPA'S ENVIROFACTS SITE
Single exposure vs. long-term exposure. Both sites use TRI data and allow you to find polluters by entering a ZIP code. However, the EDF's Scorecard ranks polluting facilities according to community-level risk assessments. This is often more meaningful to citizens than the usual way toxics are assessed for health impacts. Industry's assessments assume an individual suffers a single high-level exposure, as would occur in workplace accident. This has become the standard method for reporting risks from exposure to toxics. And this is the way EPA's Envirofacts site generally expresses risk from chemical exposure. EDF's community-level assessment method, by contrast, looks at low-level exposure over a long period of time, like a lifetime of drinking slightly contaminated water or years of working in slightly contaminated air. This is how most citizens experience toxics in their community.
Another difference in the two sites is the type of effect each looks at. This contrast is a bit more complicated to understand:
Cancer vs. non-cancer health risks. The industry standard, followed by EPA's Envirofacts site, assesses hazards in terms of number of lifetime cancers likely to result from a chemical exposure. EDF's Scorecard includes non-cancer health effects of "persistent chemicals," a relatively new category increasingly being included in health assessments of toxic exposure. These effects include both cancer and non-cancer heath effects like low birth rate, birth defects, and elevated disease rates.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are synthetic chemicals that do not readily biodegrade in the environment. As a result, these chemicals accumulate as they move through the natural food chain. Throughout the Great Lakes, for example, minute amounts of hazardous substances that by themselves would cause little alarm are found in lake-bottom sediments, where they are incorporated into the bodies of microscopic plankton. However, these microscopic animals are eaten by other aquatic animals, resulting in a concentration of toxins many times larger than found in the plankton. This multiplication effect occurs at each step up the food chain, concentrating higher and higher levels of toxic chemicals in fish, particularly in their fat cells. This process is called bioaccumulation or biomagnification of toxic chemicals in the food chain.
The results of bioaccumulation have been observed in Herring gulls in the Great Lakes, which as a result of eating fish have about 25 million times the concentration of certain toxic chemicals in their bodies as found in the bottom sediments. Great Lakes fish themselves have millions of times more toxics than the bottom sediments, and breast milk of women who eat such fish three or four times per month contains concentrations comparable to Herring gulls.