Heavy Metal Contamination Affects Connecticut Communities

In the United States, corporate facilities routinely release toxic chemicals, including heavy metals, into the surrounding land, air, and water, sometimes unbeknownst to nearby people.

Historic industrial communities are plagued by dangerous pollution, and sadly, Connecticut has hundreds of potential and known hazardous waste sites that need to be cleaned up, some of the worst air quality in the country, and rivers and lakes contaminated with industrial and toxic toxins. Mercury.

Asthma and cancer rates are among the highest in the country, and both can be attributed to environmental factors.

Connecticut, like the rest of the country, suffers from economic inequality and these poor metropolitan areas are often the most polluted. Despite serious public health and environmental risks, we have a chance to preserve and improve Connecticut’s quality of life, but local decision makers and policy makers must step in even when state bureaucracy is inert. .

How do heavy metals end up contaminating the environment?

Toxic metals, especially “heavy metals”, are individual metals or metal complexes that adversely affect people’s health over time and can become a significant health problem. Heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium and lead are naturally present in the environment. However, heavy metal contamination can occur during any industrial process, but is particularly prevalent during the manufacture of pesticides and fertilizers, mining, smelting, exploration and smelting. oil extraction, wood processing, vehicles. emissions, spreading of sewage sludge on agricultural soils, etc.

Unfortunately, the strong industrial setting present in Connecticut over the years has definitely taken a toll on the quality of life for communities, especially the most vulnerable who are more likely to live near hazardous sites and the environment.

For example, nuclear power plants create significant amounts of hazardous radioactive waste that is difficult to store safely for a long time, as well as fossil fuel power plants, which through their processes can contribute to various environmental problems, including acid rain, which has rendered hundreds of lakes uninhabitable, soot and smog pollution, which can contribute to asthma and respiratory problems, and contamination with mercury, a neurotoxin which has now been detected in all our waterways.

Asphalt concrete plants are a significant source of harmful air pollution in Connecticut, including particulates and other pollutants. Asphalt is a by-product of the petroleum refining process and is frequently used for paving and roofing. Asphalt manufacturing produces bitumen fumes and other harmful substances that have been linked to a number of health problems, including respiratory tract irritation, asthma, emphysema and cancer.

Connecticut currently operates 40 asphalt batching plants. And the same can be said of incinerators known to release sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, lead, particulate matter, dioxins and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. Connecticut operates nine incinerators: five large municipal waste incinerators, one small municipal waste incinerator, one commercial/industrial waste incinerator, one industrial boiler/furnace, and one medical waste incinerator.

Hazardous waste sites are areas where hazardous materials have been dumped and where further investigation or cleanup is required. In Connecticut, there are thousands of potential or known hazardous waste sites awaiting remediation. More than 110,000 Connecticutans live within a mile of the state’s 15 federal Superfund sites. About 74,000 people were exposed to toxins from the site, the majority through their drinking water.

These exposures are frequently linked to volatile organic chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic.

According to recent data, in 2020, Clean Harbors of Connecticut, a hazardous waste company, released approximately 390,000 pounds of poisons into Connecticut’s ecosystem. Nearly 128,000 pounds were rejected by UniMetal Surface Finishing. Dichloromethane (which accounted for 10% of the toxins released that year) and toluene were two of the chemicals released to the air in the state that year (8%).

How the Extent of Contamination is Affecting Communities in Connecticut

One of the main problems with toxic exposure is that it disproportionately affects residents. Regardless of the state, it is highly likely that minority communities live close to hazardous sites, and are therefore more likely to develop serious health problems due to exposure to toxic agents such as heavy metals.

Heavy metals can enter the human body through food, water or air, or through skin absorption on contact. Continued exposure to heavy metals has been linked to health problems such as digestive problems, skin conditions, headaches, allergies, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, memory loss and, even worse, various types of cancer.

Cancer is the leading cause of death for people under the age of 85 in the United States, as well as the leading cause of death for children. Scientific evidence linking the environment to occupational exposures to cancer continues to accumulate. Numerous studies have established a relationship between arsenic, asbestos, pesticides, vinyl chloride, chlorination by-products, metalworking fluids, benzene and other solvents, petrochemicals and the products of combustion, ionizing radiation and various forms of cancer.

Connecticut has one of the highest cancer rates in the country. Each year, 18,000 new cases of cancer are identified in Connecticut and 7,000 people die of cancer. Lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancers account for more than half of all new cancer cases and deaths.

What can be done

Connecticut was a national pioneer in establishing precedent-setting rules that limit exposure to harmful substances and in advocating for comprehensive federal change. In 2009, it passed the nation’s largest ban on bisphenol A, which included recyclable containers, baby bottles and infant formula containers. State legislators have also passed laws that:

  • ban the use of cadmium in children’s jewelery
  • prohibit the use of any hazardous substances in children’s products that have been designated as prohibited hazardous substances under the federal Hazardous Substances Act and require the labeling of any products containing lead that children may come into contact with .
  • require manufacturers of mercury thermostats to implement a collection strategy and dispose of them properly.

Recently, state leaders have pushed for more comprehensive reforms and are currently working to establish a framework in the state that will require the Department of Public Health to identify chemicals potentially harmful to an unborn child and young children. and to make recommendations for action. However, as a toxic exposure and especially to heavy metals, exposure is such an urgent problem that additional measures must be taken urgently.

The EPA and lawmakers must take urgent steps toward the complete elimination of persistently toxic chemicals, ensure proper cleanup of hazardous wastes, develop a waste management strategy that maximizes waste reduction, and eliminate exposure to pesticides.

The EPA and the state must create more aggressive timelines to ensure these sites are completely cleaned up while protecting human health and the environment. Contaminated places can remain unclean for years or even decades. The state must ensure that adequate resources and oversight are in place to ensure effective cleanups.

JJonathan Sharp is Chief Financial Officer of Environmental Litigation Group, PCa law firm that helps vulnerable communities struggling with illnesses caused by environmental toxic exposure.

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