Southern California environment news and trends

Poisoned Places, even in California


A few words, after the fact, about the NPR series that aired last week, Poisoned Places. The stories about these places were told well, and they were sufficiently shocking. Thinking about what was reported naturally made me interested in what wasn't covered in the reports.

NPR and the Center for Public Integrity obtained an internal EPA watch list via FOIA and combined it with other publicly available information, including the Toxics Release Inventory, in order to highlight holes in government enforcement. "A secret government ‘watch list’ underscores how much government knows about the threat — and how little it has done to address it," the project statement says, somewhat dramatically.

NPR's efforts to make the importance of that information clear underscores its complexity. A map attached to the series used colored dots and "scores of one to five smoke stacks … based on an EPA method of assessing potential health risk in airborne toxins from a given facility" to represent risk. The pop-up boxes link to enforcement and compliance reports. (I wish the connection between the colors and the reports were clearer but you can't have everything, I guess.)