The group Environmental Defense (formerly Environmental Defense Fund) has created a national ranking of factories based on the risk they pose from toxic chemical releases.
Environmental Defense used EPA data to estimate risk from air emissions. The calculations appear on the group's Scorecard Web site.
Under the federal Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program, thousands of U.S. industrial facilities report the number of pounds of toxic chemicals they emit each year.
"We're starting to translate the raw numbers on toxic emissions into the level of health risk that they pose for people living near the source," said Environmental Defense toxicologist Dr. Bill Pease. "It's a translation that's long overdue."
The Web site allows rankings of facilities by cancer risk from their air emissions at the national, state, or county level.
Three facilities are tied for the country's highest cancer risk from air emissions, based on 1997 TRI reports, each showing an added cancer risk of 1,000 per million for the surrounding population.
These facilities are E.I.S. Brake Parts in Manila, Ark.; Featherlite Inc. in Cresco, Iowa; and Allegheny Ludlum Corp. Allvac Latrobe Plant in Latrobe, Pa.
The calculations rely on each facilities own most current TRI report, along with estimates of facility-by-facility exposures taken from the EPA's Risk Screening Environmental Indicators Project.
"Government itself could be providing these health-risk estimates to the public, since it has everything it needs to do the math," said David Roe, attorney for Environmental Defense.
Roe noted that most of the nearly 6,000 individual TRI facilities for which calculations could be made, did not show significant cancer risk from their air emissions of TRI chemicals.
Pease stressed the accuracy limits of the cancer-risk figures. "These are state-of-the-art statistical estimates, but not certainty," he explained. "They are appropriately used as a gauge of progress in reducing pollution and to compare one facility's risk level with another's."
Any facility with its own information about the risk of its chemical emissions, including its own measurements of the public's exposure, can post it directly on the Scorecard site at www.scorecard.org, without charge, for public viewing.