Breathing Easy: Portage County Dramatically Reduces Toxic Chemical Releases in Top Hotspots
- 01-Jun-2023 3:49 PM
- Journalist: Motoki Sasaki
Ohio: Following the recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which highlighted environmental concerns surrounding the transportation, manufacturing, and use of toxic chemicals, residents in Portage County, the Greater Cleveland County closest to the incident, are questioning whether such chemicals are commonly used in their area. According to recently released data by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Portage County is home to 23 facilities that reported toxic releases in 2021. These facilities discharged 152,322 pounds of 34 different toxic chemicals into the environment. Despite an increase in the number of facilities and amount of toxic chemicals compared to last year, the county has managed to reduce chemical releases by 100,000 pounds. This figure considers a period during lockdown when some operations may have slowed.
Maintained by the EPA, the Toxics Release Inventory database monitors corporate sites that routinely emit toxins into the surrounding air, land, and waterways, frequently without notifying nearby communities. The inventory comprises 770 chemicals, and facilities that manufacture or employ these chemicals in quantities exceeding the average threshold are eligible for inclusion. Chemicals classified as "toxic" are those that can cause cancer and other health problems, as well as harm the environment. These facilities self-report their chemical usage to the EPA.
Newly published data from 2021 exposes Aurora and Kent as the main culprits behind chemical releases in Portage County, accounting for a combined total of 100,401 pounds released into the environment - with Aurora releasing 82,792 pounds and Kent releasing 17,609 pounds. Aurora has managed to reduce its chemical releases by 64,000 pounds since the previous year. Following a significant reduction of 30,000 pounds in its emissions, Ravenna now holds one of the lowest discharge levels in the county, despite ranking second in terms of emissions in 2020. According to EPA regulations, facilities with 10 or more full-time employees, engaged in industries such as manufacturing, mining, and electric power generation, and processing over 25,000 pounds of listed chemicals annually must self-report their chemical releases.
Living in the vicinity of TRI facilities does not inevitably pose a direct threat of chemical exposure and health hazards to residents. Nevertheless, it is crucial for them to be mindful of how these facilities handle and discharge chemicals into the environment and the potential impact of exposure on their well-being. It is noteworthy that the TRI database does not encompass all forms of pollution, facilities, or chemicals, including bacterial contamination. In Portage County, most of the onsite chemical releases are air releases, accounting for 67,678 pounds, a decrease of nearly 20,000 pounds compared to 2020. The remaining 55.6% of chemical releases are transported off-site to facilities that do not report to the EPA for purposes such as recycling, energy recovery, treatment, or disposal. Lorain County primarily uses these off-site facilities for treatments, energy recovery, or disposal.
Custom Pultrusions, located in Aurora, is responsible for the highest number of chemical releases in Portage County, having discharged 29,920 pounds of Styrene. Styrene is commonly used in the production of synthetic rubber, latex, and Polystyrene resins for plastic packaging, insulation, and disposable cups and containers. While exposure to Styrene may lead to health issues like cancer, as well as hematological, neurological, ocular, and respiratory symptoms, the risk score associated with this chemical is low. It is worth noting that Styrene is also found naturally in certain plants. In 2020, Trelleborg Sealing Profiles in Aurora had the highest chemical releases in the county. However, they have managed to reduce their emissions by over 65,000 pounds, and currently rank sixth among the highest chemical emitters in the county, having discharged 9,234 pounds of mostly low-risk Sodium Nitrate, Nitrate compounds, and Zinc compounds.
Newly released data indicates that the plastics and rubber manufacturing sector rank highest in Portage County's toxic chemical release, responsible for 39% of the total chemicals discharged. This amounts to 59,342 pounds, which represents half of the chemicals released by this industry in 2020. Chemical manufacturing follows closely behind, accounting for 30.1% (45,809 pounds), while machinery contributes 13.2% (20,117 pounds) to the overall chemical release. Notably, plastics and rubber manufacturing also have the highest risk score among all industries, primarily due to formaldehyde release into the air. Formaldehyde is used in the production of common household items such as antiseptics and medicines. However, it is a highly toxic and flammable chemical that can cause severe respiratory issues, skin irritation, dizziness, suffocation, and severe burns.
Smithers Oasis, a florals company, is responsible for nearly all the Formaldehyde released in Portage County and therefore has the highest risk score among all facilities in the region. Although the amount of chemicals released by this facility is only a third of what some other facilities are releasing, the toxicity of each chemical varies significantly, which is why formaldehyde poses a greater risk factor than Styrene. Risk scores are calculated based on air and water releases, with land releases not factored into the calculation. To determine the risk scores of a facility, the amount of chemicals released, the size and location of the population exposed, the likelihood of exposure, and possible health effects if exposed are all considered.