NPR’s Howard Berkes Discusses Poisoned Places Series

by Erica Peterson on November 12, 2011

Across America, more than 17,000 industrial facilities emit hazardous chemicals into the air, and a new series of reports reveals a number of shortcomings in the federal regulation of air pollution.

The Poisoned Places series is a collaboration between NPR and the Center for Public Integrity that focused on the country’s air regulations. Despite these regulations, reporters profiled several towns across America that are dealing with dangerous amounts of pollution.

NPR Rural Affairs Correspondent Howard Berkes told WFPL that in the places he visited for the series, citizens had been fighting against the pollution for years with few results.

“So that’s the common thread,” he said. “That despite these laws, despite regulatory agencies, despite what they’re supposed to do in many cases we found that people have to push them really hard and sometimes they push for a long time.”

Reporters uncovered the existence of the Environmental Protection Agency’s ‘secret watch list.’ If a chronic polluter went too long without a visit from regulators, it was added to the list. The unintended consequence was that some facilities went months without enforcement.

All of the communities the series visited—in Oklahoma, Kansas and New York—were dealing with excessive pollution from industries.

“In Tonawanda, New York it was serious cases of cancers and other illnesses,” Berkes said. “In Chanute, Kansas there are high amounts of mercury being emitted quite legally from a cement kiln that burns hazardous waste.”

The series’ run on NPR is finished, but additional pieces will be published by the Center for Public Integrity.

Berkes spoke to WFPL on State of the News yesterday.  Hear the conversation in full:

Audio MP3

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