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Pollution by the numbers

A few of iWatch News' most surprising findings from 'Poisoned Places' investigation

From Tonawanda, N.Y., to Hayden, hundreds of U.S. communities are still exposed to pollutants, which can cause cancer, birth defects and other health issues — more than 20 years after passage of the Clean Air Act.

Here are a few of iWatch News' most surprising findings from the 'Poisoned Places' investigation:

726 complaints

There were 726 complaints regarding ‘carbon black,’ a fine, carbon-based dust and possible carcinogen, from the residents of Ponca City, Okla., over an 18-year period. Most complaints were closed after inspectors couldn’t physically see carbon black coming out of a plant.

2,000 acres

Size of the tailings, or mining waste, pile from a copper smelter in Hayden covers 2,000 acres. Huge dust clouds from the ore pile, which spans more than 3 square miles, have at times obscured the visibility for the town’s residents.

464 facilities

There are 464 high-pollution plants that the EPA placed on their internal ‘watch list,’ which includes serious or chronic violators of the Clean Air Act.

3,000 degrees

Hazardous waste of the Ash Grove Cement Company, a plant in Chanute, Kan., must be incinerated at 3,000 degrees. The cement kiln falls into a loophole of the EPA’s air pollution standards and emits hundreds of pounds of mercury into the air.

270 days

The minimum delay is 270 days between the discovery of a Clean Air Act violation and inclusion on the EPA’s ‘watch list.’

20 percent

The EPA investigates only twenty percent of reported leads of hazardous air pollution the EPA — from there, roughly one-third of those leads result in criminal charges.

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74 percent

Birth defects in the three counties surrounding ‘Refinery Row’ in Corpus Christi, Texas, has increased 74 percent compared to the rest of the state.

Reprinted by permission of The Center for Public Integrity.

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Emma Schwartz/Center for Public Integrity

Some residents of Hayden believe that emissions of toxic metals from the Asarco copper smelter have caused cancer and other maladies. The EPA has accused Asarco of underreporting such emissions