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Sierra Club report spotlights worst toxic polluters, ZIP Codes in Virginia

sierra club virginiaThe Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club released a report today entitled The Top 25 Virginia Localities with the Highest Toxic Air Emissions. Virginia localities ranking on the list include Hopewell, Covington, Isle of Wight, Buchanan and Chesterfield. The cities of Arlington, Gladys in Campbell County and Axton in Henry County were newcomers to be featured on the list.

The report is based on the EPA’s 2014 Toxic Release Inventory, a collection of air pollution data available for most ZIP codes across the United States. This data is analyzed to create the final Sierra Club report.

“We are issuing this report to inform the public and highlight the corporate polluters responsible for our poor air quality,” Kate Addleson, Director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said. “A lot of people don’t know what’s in their air and how bad it is compared to other places.”

The report focuses attention on the WestRock paperboard manufacturing facility in Covington, the chemical manufacturer Honeywell International’s facility in Hopewell, International Paper pulp mill in Franklin, SunCoke Energy’s Jewell coke plant in Buchanan County and Dominion Virginia Power facilities in Chesapeake, Chesterfield and Yorktown as being the largest toxic air polluters in Virginia.

“There are a lot of things that we can do without in this life. But one of the few universal things across all of mankind, is the necessity for clean, breathable air,” Alden Cleanthes, a Field Organizer with Moms’ Clean Air Force, said. “The numbers here are overwhelming. I am someone who suffers from Adult-Onset Asthma, with no prior family history, so increasing levels of toxic emissions are a direct threat to my life every day.”

Reported air pollution for the state still exceeds 22 million pounds and has increased slightly in comparison to the previous year. Virginia as of 2014 has the 21st worst total toxic releases occurring out of the 56 states and territories in the U.S. Many of the toxic chemicals released in Virginia can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs like hydrochloric acid (over 5 million pounds released) and ammonia (over 4.5 million pounds released).

Other chemicals have been associated with neurological impacts like toluene (over 800 thousand pounds released) and methanol (over 4 million pounds released) and yet others such as acetaldehyde (over 400 thousand pounds released) and polycyclic aromatic compounds (over 300 thousand pounds released) have been linked to various cancers. Worse yet, the cumulative and synergistic health effects of these combinations of chemicals in the air we breathe have in most cases never been studied.

“The students I see every day are dealing with asthma,” Julia Andrews, RN and school nurse at Achievable Dreams Academy in Newport News, said. “We need to be doing all we can to reduce the amount of triggers and stressors in the environment for these kids.” Achievable Dreams Academy is located in ZIP code 23607, ranked No. 23 in the report.

“The Golden Rule or equivalent is found in every world religion, and there are no conditions or exclusions,” the Rev. Andrew Clive Millard, Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula, said. “When it comes to the health impacts of poor air quality, there is clearly a disproportionate impact on people of color — and on children of color in particular — and that is far from treating others as we wish to be treated.  My faith, my sense of morality and justice, requires that I call for all families to have equal opportunities for healthy lives.”

The Southeast CARE Coalition and the Virginia Chapter Sierra Club work together towards cleaner air in the Southeast Community in Newport News.

“Virginians living in these highly polluted areas don’t have the means to fight these giant corporations, and the polluters are taking advantage of that,” Kendyl Crawford, Conservation Program Manager of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, said. “State regulators like the Department of Environmental Quality should be doing more to protect public health from toxic air emissions.”

Important findings include:

  • Hopewell ZIP code 23860 is the most polluted in the state. In that ZIP code, air pollution levels are up 20 percent compared to the previous year’s data.
  • The top fifteen chemicals tracked in the Toxic Release Inventory data amounted to 20 million pounds of toxic air pollution being released into the air in Virginia.
  • The toxic chemicals disclosed in this report cause health problems like birth defects, organ damage, and cancer among other ailments.
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