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ProPublica identifies local area; polluting ‘hot spot’

ProPublica, a New York-based nonprofit investigative journalism organization, has released what it bills as “The Most Detailed Map of Cancer-Causing Industrial Air Pollution in the U.S.,” and an area of Hancock is featured within the ranking of the nation’s top spots for “levels of excess cancer risk that the Environmental Protection Agency deems unacceptable.”

A ProPublica reporter visited the Hancock Clarion last week and said she has been “knocking on doors” in the community, and that the organization will be releasing an in-depth investigation on the highest-emitting industries in the United States in mid-December.

The Hancock Clarion has been given permission to co-publish the reporting once it is released. According to ProPublica’s analysis of the past “five years of modeled EPA data,” the organization identified the area to be well above the risk for cancer development in those with prolonged exposure to emissions.

The EPA “acceptable risk” rate is 1 in 10,000.

ProPublica reports the 20,000 people living in the “hot spot” have an average risk of cancer 1 in 11,000 – 8.4 percent lower than the EPA’s acceptable risk – while the highest risk is to those closest to the emitter at 1 in 43, 230 times the EPA’s acceptable risk.

ProPublica says in its initial reporting, the risk in selected hot spots can vary widely based upon weather patterns and proximity to a polluting facility.

The organization reports emissions of polycyclic aromatic compounds, which the Centers for Disease Control defines as “a class of chemicals that occur naturally in coal, crude oil, and gasoline. They also are produced when coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage, and tobacco are burned.”

Benzo(g,h,i)perlylene is also identified as an emission in the area, and is defined by the EPA as naturally-occurring in crude oil and coal tar. The chemical is also a byproduct of incomplete combustion and can be found in tobacco smoke, internal combustion engine exhaust, grilled meat and edible oils.

It has been found to accumulate in the environment and biological materials, and is “suspected to be a mutagenic and carcinogenic,” according to the German Environmental Specimen Bank and the National Center for Biotechnology Information with the National Institutes of Health.

The chemical is deposited as a film through the process of adsorption, which is the adhesion of atoms, ions or molecules to a surface.

Other hot spots in the region identified by ProPublica include Sebree, Owensboro, West Point, and Calvert City.

ProPublica is a five-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize.

By C. Josh Givens


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