WASHINGTON — Environmental Protection Agency data released today by a House panel chairman indicate that 205 industrial plants in 37 states release enough toxic chemicals to pose a severe cancer risk.
Thirteen plants in California were on the list.
EPA officials cautioned that while the overall cancer danger is serious, the information includes partial and old data that does not represent "credible estimates of risk" for individual facilities cited.
Risk estimates for those exposed are a thousand-fold greater than the cancer risk level most policy makers consider acceptable, said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), who released the figures.
Only one plant in the nation, a Texaco refinery at Port Neches, Tex., was listed as posing a cancer risk of at least 1 in 10 for each person given maximum exposure.
Two California plants, Simpson Paper Co. of Fairhaven and Unocal at La Mirada, were in the second section of the list for posing a cancer risk of at least 1 in 100 but less than 10 in 100. There were 45 such plants listed nationwide.
The third category of plants with a cancer risk of at least 1 in 1,000 but less than 1 in 100 for each person with maximum exposure includes 11 California plants: Dow Chemical, Pittsburg (listed twice because of risks from two chemicals); Louisiana Pacific, Samoa; Louisiana Pacific, Antioch; Simpson Paper, Anderson; Shell-Carlson, Los Angeles; American Pharmaceutical, Irwindale; Cal-Compack Food, Santa Ana; Gilroy Foods Inc., Gilroy; McCormick & Co., Salinas; Micro-Biotrol, Vernon, and Santa Maria Chili, Santa Maria.
A risk estimate of 1 in 1,000 means that one person out of 1,000 could be expected to contract cancer from maximum exposure to a single pollutant.
Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce environment subcommittee, agreed that the list could change because the figures are preliminary.
Nonetheless, he said, the numbers represent a "stunning demonstration of the urgency of the public health threat" from the now-unregulated toxic emissions, and he told reporters that the public has a right to the information.
The EPA said the new, preliminary list is the first of its kind, although Waxman noted that two previous studies found cancer rates two to four times the national average near some major chemical facilities.
There are strong indications that the risk is even worse because the data are so limited, Waxman said.
For instance, the information only measures cancer risks, but not other potential hazards such as birth defects, nervous system damage or respiratory disease.
Waxman coupled release of the data with introduction of legislation to control toxic releases from industrial sources and motor vehicles; to prevent accidental releases; to protect the Great Lakes, which have been seriously damaged by airborne toxic chemicals, and to control emissions from small businesses.