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New Series on Air Pollution

This map, using EPA Watch List data, shows air pollution levels in Texas.
Map created by NPR, CPI, and StateImpact
This map, using EPA Watch List data, shows air pollution levels in Texas.

Today, NPR, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and StateImpact launched a new series investigating air pollution and regulation across the country. The series is entitled, "Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities." StateImpact has more on the project on its website.

Here is the first part of the four-part series. Today's story discusses the Environmental Protection Agency's Watch List, which was created in 2004 under the Bush Administration to keep tabs on repeat pollutant offenders. The list had been kept secret until this report. 

There's also an interactive map showing air pollution levels across the state where you can explore how toxic air affects your community.

Among the team's findings:

  • State and federal regulators take months and sometimes years to enforce anti-pollution rules. About 400 facilities are on an internal EPA watch list that includes serious or chronic Clean Air Act violators that have not been subject to timely enforcement. The list was obtained by the Center and NPR and is being made public for the first time.
  • More than 1,600 facilities around the country are classified by the EPA as “high priority violators” of the Clear Air Act sites in need of urgent action by enforcers.
  • Regulators largely rely on an honor system easily manipulated by polluters, which report their own emissions. Even judging by the self-reported numbers, the scale of pollution is enormous: At least 600 million pounds of toxic chemicals — including arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde and lead — were released into the air in 2009, according to EPA data.

Later this week, StateImpact will look at the state of regulation in Texas, the worst air polluter's in the state , and the potential health impacts of these toxic emissions.