Illinois ranked 11th in toxic pollution linked to cancer

Illinois ranked 11th in toxic pollution linked to cancer

By Renee Kullberg

Illinois PIRG Education Fund Campaign Director

Illinois ranked third in the country for both reproductive and developmental toxicant releases in 2000, and also ranked 7th in the country for cumulative chemical releases linked to cancer from 1987-2000, according to a report released Jan. 22 by Illinois PIRG Education Fund.

Illinois PIRG Education Fund’s report, “Toxic Releases and Health: A Review of Pollution Data and Current Knowledge on the Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals,” is a first-ever analysis of air and water releases reported by industry to the Toxic Release Inventory Program from 1987 to 2000, and the effects those releases have on health. The review of these data demonstrates the degree to which toxic substances with links to serious health problems are released into the environment.

“Polluters in Illinois discharge millions of pounds of toxic pollution while the people of Illinois have no knowledge of how it is affecting their health,” said Renee Kullberg, campaign director for Illinois PIRG Education Fund. “Illinois must not be a national leader in the amount of toxic pollution released into the air and water.”

In Illinois, 60 percent of the pollution linked to reproductive disorders released between 1987 to 2000 was released in Danville. More than 3 million pounds of toxics were released into the air and water in Danville in 2000.

In Ogle County (ranking 26th in the nation), more than 847,700 pounds of developmental toxins (potential health effects include fetal death, structural defects such as cleft lip/cleft palate and heart abnormalities, and functional defects such as neurological, hormonal or immune system problems) were released in 2000. Pollution was also released in Illinois that has been linked to cancer, respiratory diseases, and neurological damage.

National analysis of toxic pollution released between 1987 and 2000 showed that the dominant sources of pollution have shifted from the industrial Northeast and Midwest “Rustbelt,” to the South and Southeast “Sunbelt.”

Toxic releases are concentrated in a small number of communities. In 2000, 76 percent of air and water releases of chemicals linked to potential reproductive harm occurred in just 10 zip codes.

Illinois PIRG Education Fund’s research also showed that the public lacks information on how toxic pollution affects human health because few states track the public’s exposure to toxic discharges, or the rates of potentially related chronic diseases. Currently, three states—Massachusetts, California, and Iowa—have high-level cancer and birth defect registries and systematically track asthma. No state systematically tracks other chronic diseases such as autism, and no state tracks the potential environmental exposures linked with these chronic diseases. In Illinois, cancer and birth defects have been tracked since 1986 and 1988, respectively.

While the chemicals covered in this study were linked to various serious health consequences, this report covered less than 1 percent of the estimated 80,000 chemicals on the market today. U.S. law also makes it difficult for a chemical that poses a health threat to be banned or restricted. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has only restricted the use of nine toxic chemicals out of the thousands that potentially pose a danger to human health.

During 2002, Congress approved funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to award 20 grants to state and municipal public health departments to either improve or initiate health tracking programs in those cities and states. Illinois was not a recipient of a grant. During the 107th Congress, the Senate awarded an increase in funding for these health tracking programs, but the House failed to approve the relevant Appropriations bill. The Senate will be required to reconsider the funding for health tracking this month, and could increase funding to make more grants available to more states.

Illinois PIRG Education Fund applauds Representatives Bobby Rush, Jesse Jackson, Jr., and Janice Schakowsky for co-sponsoring legislation in the 107th Congress introduced by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to set up a nationwide network for tracking chronic diseases. Illinois PIRG Education Fund calls on the Illinois delegation to co-sponsor this legislation in the 108th Congress. This network would expand the monitoring of human exposure to toxic chemicals and track chronic diseases such as asthma, cancer, birth defects and neurological conditions.

Illinois PIRG is a statewide environmental and consumer advocacy group with 17,000 members in Illinois. Copies of the report can be ordered online at

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