EPA Report Brings Pollution Dangers Home…Literally

In the demanding push to pass legislation that will deal with CO2 and climate change, it is easy to lose sight of more traditional air pollution problem we have in the Midwest.

I got a very personal reminder of the issue last week in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's coverage of the US EPA's newest pollution report:

Granite City residents are among the most likely in the nation to contract cancer as a result of breathing toxic air pollution, according to an assessment released Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

You see, I grew up in Granite City, IL, which is a steel town across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. According to the EPA, neighborhoods in my old home town and Madison County stomping grounds have air so polluted that they have an elevated cancer rate just for breathing it---in fact, only LA's air is worse.

This should not come as a huge surprise for a county so heavily industrialized that three of the five biggest employers are a steel mill, a brass foundry, and an expanding tar sands oil refinery. But the rates are alarming---cancer at an 1100 in 1 million rate (100:1 million is an exceedingly high rate to begin with) according to EPA data.

I have friends and family in St. Louis, so this KWMU Radio clip summarizes my concerns as they relate to him:

The pollution doesn't stop at the Madison county line," says [Kathleen Logan-Smith of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment]. "So if Madison County is 1100 cancers out of 1 million when it should be 36, what is St. Louis? What is Clayton? What is South City? What is Arnold?

And if that is not enough, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch brings it all home...literally:

In Missouri, 404 of 1,320 areas - or 30 percent - exceeded the national average for cancer risk rates to due to toxic air pollution. Of those areas, 280 were in St. Louis and St. Louis County. More than 1,700 areas - 60 percent - in Illinois had risk rates higher than the national average, with more than 75 percent of those falling inside Cook County.

I now live in Cook County with my wife and children, so this is a reminder of exactly why we need to keep up the fight against polluters in the area. Self-interest shouldn't be the driver for these fights---in fact, it is probably a big contributor to the problem---but it can certainly help remind you what's at stake.