A breath of New Haven air may do more than freeze lungs: a new study shows that industry in New Haven County releases more carcinogens and chemicals proven to cause developmental, reproductive and neurological disorders than any other county in the state.
According to a report published Jan. 22 by the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group, New Haven County leads the state in emission and release of the toxins into the environment. Both local industries and national chains were deemed responsible in the first-of-its-kind report, titled “Toxic Releases and Health.”
The report named Gulf Oil, a national oil company, as the single largest emitter of carcinogenic chemicals in the city of New Haven, followed by Uretek Inc., a local manufacturer of polyurethane-coated fabrics.
Gulf Oil representatives were not available for comment on Thursday, but a spokesman for Uretek said that to his knowledge, Uretek emits no chemicals at all, by virtue of a $500,000 scrubbing system.
Dan Lorimier, spokesman for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said he was not familiar with the details of the report, but found the overall findings alarming.
“New Haven has a long history of industrialization,” Lorimier said. “We have a heritage for the commercialization of products that release these kinds of chemicals.”
Lorimier added that unique characteristics of Connecticut’s aquifer system make the state extremely susceptible to chemical dumpings on land or in water.
Although the numbers are alarming, the fact that the study was even conducted was a step in the right direction, said Kelly Benkert, Connecticut Public Interest Research Group’s field organizer and spokeswoman.
“Hopefully, this is just the beginning of great things to come,” Benkert said.
Furthermore, although the study is the first systematic analysis of these data, Benkert said several indications showed that overall pollution in New England was down, even as it increases across the Sunbelt.
Both Benkert and Lorimier praised the efforts of Connecticut politicians to clean up and preserve the state’s environment.
“[Connecticut’s politicians] are definitely representing their constituencies,” Benkert said. “They realize the importance of protecting the environment and working to preserve it. The folks who live here are aware of that and that’s what’s reflected in our elected officials.”
Because many Connecticut politicians are conscious of the environment, Connecticut is already better off than many states in the nation, Benkert said.
In order to promote a decrease in emissions in Connecticut, Lorimier said, the legislature must pass laws that systematically and thoroughly monitor industrial pollution.
“One step would be to get a firm grip on what’s happening,” Lorimier said.
According to a summary attached to the report, over one billion pounds of neurological toxins were released in the nation’s air and water in the year 2000. Over 100 million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals were also released, to which Connecticut contributed 1.4 million pounds. This figure put the state in 24th place nationwide.
Lorimier said New Haven County is not the only one in environmental trouble; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality standards show Fairfield County in “extreme non-compliance.”