Texas: One Dirty, Dirty State

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group has documented with statistics what many Texans could already tell with their own two eyes (and lungs, and other body parts): Texas is one of the most polluted states in the nation, especially around Houston.

A new U.S. PIRG study reviews data from the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory, to which industries are required to report their releases of certain toxic chemicals. Overall, the data showed that the Sun Belt has replaced the Rust Belt as the nation's leading source of toxics releases, and that the communities most affected often know little about how those releases might affect their health. U.S. PIRG called for the creation of a Nationwide Health Tracking Network to enable citizens, scientists, and public health officials to assess and respond to such pollution.

In 2000, the most recent year for which data was available, Texas ranked first in the nation in releases of carcinogens, suspected neurological toxicants, and dioxin. Texas ranked fourth in both developmental and reproductive toxicants, and seventh in suspected respiratory toxicants. Cumulatively since 1987, the first year of the inventory, Texas ranks first in cancer-causing chemicals, neurological toxicants, and respiratory toxicants, and in the Top 10 in other categories. Several Texas counties ranked among the top 50 in 2000 in one or more categories, but only Harris made all six; it ranks second nationally for both cancer-causing chemicals and suspected neurological toxicants. Jefferson Co. made the top 50 in everything except dioxin.

Among the worst ZIP codes, it looks wise to avoid any that begin in "775": During 2000, 77536 (in Deer Park, near Galveston Bay) ranked in the top 20 producers of reproductive toxicants and dioxin, and 77541 (Freeport, southwest of Galveston) made the list for dioxin. Closer to home, 78132 (New Braunfels) made the top 20 for dioxin, spurred largely by the presence of the Hunter Cement Plant. Cumulatively since 1987, 77541 and 77536 are each ranked in the top 20 in three categories of toxins.

To get a copy of the study, go to www.texpirg.org or call 479-7287.

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