County sixth in pollutants

Published 12:47 am Tuesday, October 18, 2011

County’s toxic air pollutants among highest in state

Nearly 2 million pounds of toxic air pollutants were released in Beaufort County last year, part of more than 34 million pounds of toxic substances and nearly 1.5 million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals, according to a report released recently by a Chapel Hill-based environmental group.

The figures are based on reports submitted by North Carolina’s industries to the Environmental Protection Agency annually as part of the Toxics Release Inventory, which makes information on toxic chemicals emitted by industries available to the public.

According to the report, Beaufort County ranks sixth among the state’s 100 counties in the amount of toxic substances released into the air by industries within the county, with 1,949,921 pounds of those substances reported. Industries in Columbus County reported the release of 3,972,385 pounds of toxins, making that county’s toxic air releases the highest in the state, according to the report.

In Beaufort County, ammonia was the most frequently reported chemical released into the air, with 1,422,179 pounds of ammonia released into the air by local industries in 2010, according to the report.

Other chemicals released into the air by Beaufort County industries include 279,147 pounds of sulfuric-acid aerosols, 155,157 pounds of hydrogen fluoride; 77,760 pounds of methyl isobutyl ketone and 13,100 pounds of styrene, among others.

The toxic air releases were part of 3,965,894 pounds of chemicals stored, released or disposed of by Beaufort County industries in 2010 and that were required to be reported to the EPA as part of the Toxic Release Inventory.

In 1990, Congress passed the Pollution Prevention Act, which requires industries to report data on waste-management and pollution-reduction activities to the EPA under the Toxics Release Inventory Program. The goal of the program is to provide communities with information about toxic chemical releases and waste-management activities and help industry, government, nongovernmental organizations and the public make decisions about their communities, according to the EPA.

The Toxics Release Inventory Program compiles the TRI data submitted by regulated facilities each year and makes the data available through various data files available via the Internet.

The Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill recently compiled figures on North Carolina toxic air pollution reported by industries in 100 counties statewide in the Toxics Release Inventory.

The SELC review comes as state and federal officials seek to change regulations governing their release, according to Derb Carter, the center’s director.

The N.C. General Assembly’s Environmental Review Commission this year will continue consideration of an amendment to Senate Bill 308 that would repeal the only health-based protections for the air people breathe against actual concentrations of toxic and cancer-causing air pollutants from multiple large industrial sources, according to Carter.

The listed pollutants covered by the state regulations are the most hazardous to public health, including PCBs, dioxins, asbestos, heavy metals (such as arsenic, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, mercury and others), formaldehyde, cyanide and dozens of known carcinogens.

“Politicians that reduce or repeal limits on toxic air pollution knowingly increase the risk for all North Carolina residents of cancer and other serious — even deadly — health problems,” Carter said in a statement released with the report.

Dirty Dozen

According to Toxics Release Inventory reported to the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010, industries released over 1 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the air in 12 North Carolina counties as follows:

  • Columbus, 3,972,385 lbs.
  • New Hanover, 3,056,955 lbs.
  • Wayne, 2,148,960 lbs.
  • Haywood, 2,062,632 lbs.
  • Chatham, 1,959,508 lbs.
  • Beaufort, 1,949,921 lbs.
  • Rutherford, 1,936,551 lbs.
  • Gaston, 1,765,023 lbs.
  • Rowan, 1,427,134 lbs.
  • Brunswick, 1,275,653 lbs.
  • Rockingham, 1,272,794 lbs.
  • Catawba, 1,053,677 lbs.

Source: Southern Environmental Law Center and EPA Toxics Release Inventory.