Many of us have probably wondered about this question in some form or another, but some of the answers may come as a surprise. We often think of “the polluters” as being some big company with belching smokestacks or a parade of trucks filled with drums of hazardous wastes leading away from the factory. True, these types of companies are often the top polluters in industry and there are a number of resources in the Resources section to help you identify who the “top” polluters would be.
However, something else to keep in mind is that even the largest of these “top polluters” will still pale in comparison to the combined pollution that comes from the 5.1 million of us that call Minnesota home. For example, my car does not pollute as much as the coal-fired electricity generating plant a couple miles from my house, but when you add up all of the vehicles in Minnesota, we collectively are responsible for almost 50% of the air pollution in our state! In addition, that coal plant I mentioned exists because of the demand for electricity that we all have. When many of us think of pollution, we also think of garbage. It may be useful to know that the average Minnesotan produces over a ton of garbage per year, or about five pounds per day! Therefore, we can blame the industries top polluters and work to make them more environmentally conscious. Yet, we should also consider our own contributions to the ‘big picture’ of pollution in Minnesota.
Resources to help you identify the “top” polluters:
• The state Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act Program (www.epcra.state.mn.us) Provides access to data from the Minnesota companies that must file information for the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) program. The database can be searched by facility, city, county, chemical or reporting year.
• The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Environmental Data Access (www.pca.state.mn.us/data/eda/index.cfm) For air quality, search for specific facilities (known as point sources), look at specific geographic areas in Minnesota, or search for specific pollutants. For water quality, you can search surface water assessments for conditions, monitoring sites or water quality data.
• Minnesota is developing “Good Neighbor Agreements” between companies and the residents who live near a facility who they would like to see pollute less. Additional resources for Good Neighbor Agreements can be found atwww.nextstep.state.mn.us/res_detail.cfm?id=629&xx=neighbor.
What can we do about our own pollution? Become informed through articles in this publication and on the Twin Cities Green Guide’s web site www.doitgreen.org. Next, make an action plan to reduce your own contribution to pollution.