Local Gender-Benders

THERE'S A ROUTINE to it: Environmental group releases report re-crunching government numbers; holds press conference; gets a tiny blurb on back page; and goes off to sulk until it produces the next study. Most of the documents thus created are less than revelatory, at best showing in more detail how much of which toxin floats in the air, water, or soil. But every now and again, new information comes around. Witness this year's string of studies by the D.C.-based Environmental Information Center on releases of "endocrine-disrupting chemicals," the gender-bending pollutants suspected of scrambling hormonal controls in humans and animals.

First, back in June, the group announced that the Great Lakes topped all other regions in the amount of endocrine-disrupter pollution industrial facilities reported to the federal government. (EIC's studies draw on the Toxic Release Inventory, the federal database to which companies must report toxic emissions. All data are for 1995.) When emissions were ranked, Minnesota came in 15th.

Now, EIC has gotten more specific, naming the industries responsible for the most hormone-disrupting pollution. Again, Minnesota makes a respectable showing. Of the top 50 endocrine polluters in the region, it's home to six. (In a stray bit of good news, Minnesota is first in "source reduction," industry efforts to cut toxic use and waste.) Just one facility, Anoka-based Lund Industries, reported releasing 110,000 pounds of styrene, a chemical used in plastics manufacturing and the leading endocrine-disrupting contaminant in the nation, according to the study. The plastics industry in general, it turns out, is the biggest emitter of endocrine disrupters, accounting for more than four-fifths of all emissions reported to TRI. Car and boat makers come in second.

TRI data, the study acknowledges, capture only a few of the thousands of chemicals suspected of attacking hormone cycles. What's more, only companies dumping more than 25,000 pounds of a toxin in a year are even required to file. And incinerators, farms, and power companies are exempt. Up next: a battle in Congress over whether to tighten the TRI reporting requirements.

 
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