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Published Saturday, July 21, 2001, in the Akron Beacon Journal.

Ohio top polluter in U.S., Canada

Report's findings largely blamed on emissions of coal, chemical plants

BY BOB DOWNING
Beacon Journal staff writer

Ohio is listed as the No. 1 source of toxic chemical releases and transfers in a new U.S.-Canada report.

The state's top billing in the United States and Canada is because of emissions from coal-burning electric power plants and from heavy industrial operations. A hazardous-waste landfill near Toledo and a chemical complex in Lima that injects waste underground also contributed the high ranking.

But experts did not agree on the meaning of the numbers released yesterday by the Montreal-based North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

The data covers toxic chemicals polluting the air and the water, as well as toxic chemicals going into landfills and being recycled. Chemicals that are recycled or reused in another way at a different site are considered transfers rather than releases.

``It's hard to draw conclusions for what the numbers mean,'' said Janine Ferretti, executive director of the quasi-governmental environmental watchdog agency, which was set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Randy Leffler, of the Ohio Manufacturing Association, said the data does little more than indicate that Ohio is ``a very strong manufacturing state . . . and is not indicative of environmental problems.''

By contrast, Amy Simpson, of the Ohio Public Interest Research Group, called the report ``quite disturbing'' but no surprise. ``It raises concerns for public health and the environment,'' she said, `` . . . and Ohio needs to reduce its use of toxic chemicals and reduce the volume of toxic chemicals shipped into our state.''

Ohio's overall total for on-site and off-site disposal of 165 toxic chemicals in 1998 was 358 million pounds. That represents 8 percent of the total toxic chemicals tracked in the report.

No. 2 on the list was Texas. Pennsylvania was third, Ontario fourth and Indiana fifth.

Together, Ohio, Ontario and the other three states accounted for 35 percent of all releases and transfers of toxic chemicals in North America.

For several years, Ohio has been No. 1 in the federal Toxic Release Inventory, in which companies report releases to the federal and state governments. That data is the basis of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation report.

The state's total included nearly 304 million pounds of toxics that went into the air, water or landfills or were injected underground on site at 1,517 industrial facilities.

That on-site ranking put Ohio ahead of Texas, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Florida.

Of the 304 million pounds, 132 million pounds went into the air and 5.4 million pounds into the water, the report says. Releases to the air and water generally are considered the most important because they can affect human health and the environment, unlike other releases and transfers.

In addition, the report ranked Ohio No. 4 for off-site disposal with 54 million pounds. Ohio trailed Ontario, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

In all, the United States and Canada had 3.58 million tons of toxic chemicals released to the environment or transferred off-site -- with a quarter of that total coming from coal-burning power plants.

The two main toxic chemicals from electric utilities are hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid derived from burning coal. They accounted for 43 percent of the toxic chemicals being released into the air.

The report did not cover the air pollutants sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxide, two of the main air pollutants from burning coal. They contribute to acid rain and unhealthful smog.

Three Ohio power plants -- including FirstEnergy Corp.'s Sammis plant at Stratton on the Ohio River -- were among the Top 10 polluting coal-burning power plants, the report said.

Overall, American and Canadian firms showed a slight drop in the on-site and off-site release of toxic chemicals from 1995 to 1998, and that's encouraging, said Ferretti, whose agency is responsible for analyzing data from the participating NAFTA countries to provide a continental perspective on industrial pollution.

But there is concern for the growing volume of waste shipped off site for treatment or disposal, she said.

The report says that pollution-prevention programs are showing success, but more companies need to get involved.

About 15 percent of the chemicals covered in the report cause cancer, with one third of that total going into the air.

Two Stark County companies are listed in the report for handling large volumes of cancer-causing chemicals. American Steel Foundries in Alliance was No. 9 for chromium and Envirite of Ohio in Canton Township was No. 11 for nickel and chromium. Both companies ship the metals off site for disposal.

The 322-page report includes no data from Mexico because that country does not track its releases of toxic chemicals.

The report is available at http://www.cec.org/ on the Internet.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com

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Updated 4:42 a.m., July 21, 2001

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