Sierra Club report shows communities across America at risk from cancer-causing pollution

provided by the Sierra Club


he Sierra Club, doctors and cancer victims released a report last month, "Cancer, Chemicals and You," indicating that U.S. polluters legally dumped more than 175 million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals into our air and water in 1996 alone more than a cup of cancer-causing chemical for every man, woman, and child in America. The group called on polluters to clean up cancer-causing pollution and lower cancer risk, especially for children.

"More than one in three people will suffer from cancer at one point in their lives, and at least one in five of us will die from some form of this disease. Cancer has become a national epidemic, in part because of the toxic chemicals released into our communities everyday," stated Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director. "It's time that corporate polluters stop placing our communities at risk. It's time they clean up their act to reduce the risk of cancer that threatens our families."

The Sierra Club report named the top 20 U.S. counties for cancer-causing chemical pollution to air and water. The environmental group released the report and map to highlight the risk of cancer pollution to all families a topic that will be the focus of the upcoming movie, "A Civil Action," starring John Travolta. The movie and best selling book show how cancer victims struggle for justice in the court system against big polluters.

"Cancer is a major health problem and the second leading cause of disease-related deaths, and cancer caused by air pollution is the worst. People don't have a choice in the air they breathe," said Dr. Peter Orris, of the Great Lakes Center for Occupational Safety at the University of Illinois, Chicago. "This report shows that we need a lot more attention to reducing cancer-causing chemicals released into our communities."

Texas is the state most threatened by cancer-causing pollutants, followed by Indiana, North Carolina, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. "Clearly the Great Lakes and Southeast states need to do more to protect citizens from cancer-causing pollution," said Larry Freilich, Southeast Representative for the Sierra Club and report coauthor.

In Mobile, Alabama, Margie Welch, a Sierra Club volunteer has been working for years to reduce cancer-causing pollution in her neighborhood. "Our community already believes that cancer-causing chemicals are a public threat, and that cancer clusters are related to pollution. We need studies to confirm these links, but need to take immediate action to require polluters to reduce their cancer-causing emissions to protect our families' health."

The good news is that some companies are cleaning up, such as Parker Pen Company in Janesville, WI. It almost eliminated their dumping of trichloroethylene (TCE), a cancer-causing solvent, by replacing it with a much cleaner solvent: soap and water. TCE is the same solvent that was shown to cause cancer in the Woburn, MA children in "A Civil Action."

"This report shows that companies can take cost-effective steps to clean up pollution and protect people from cancer," concluded Brett Hulsey, Sierra Club Midwest Representative and report coauthor. "There is no excuse for polluters to use our children and families as cancer detectors."

To reduce your cancer risk, you can:

  • Find out what polluters release in your neighborhood and demand those polluters stop dumping cancer-causing and toxic pollution. Check the Sierra Club website at for more information.
  • Reduce your own exposure to cigarette smoke and other cancer causing pollution.

Ask polluting businesses to:

  • Stop dumping cancer-causing chemicals into the air, water, and ground in five years.
  • Pay sick workers and cancer victims for their medical bills, pain and suffering.

Ask government leaders to:

  • Enforce pollution laws such as the Clean Air Act health and urban air pollution standards, since 90 percent of the cancer-causing pollution is air pollution.
  • Do child and adult health studies near major cancer pollution sources, such as highways, power plants, airports, and industries.

  Sierra Club, the nation's oldest and largest environmental organization, has more than 400 local groups working to cleanup toxic pollution and protect America's environment, for our families, for our future.