The issue of toxic pollution in Virginia has been too long ignored in a state that prides itself as business friendly and pursues environmental policies that rely on voluntary compliance and self-enforcement. There has also been an erroneous belief among too many public officials in Virginia that pollution is one of the costs of a strong economy and jobs. In a market-driven economy, those industries with the lowest cost per unit of production prosper even if that lower cost is achieved at the expense of the public’s health and the environment. Regulations and pollution standards are needed to establish a level playing field that insures the public is protected, businesses know the rules of the game, and those businesses that violate environmental standards are not allowed to benefit from lower costs of production by exceeding pollution limits.
On a nationwide basis, Virginia is not the worst state in terms of public exposure to toxic pollution, but it could do better. Virginia ranks 22nd among states in total toxic emissions, and 37th in per capital emissions. However, these statewide numbers are meaningless to individuals living in certain communities in Virginia, both urban and rural, who bear a disproportionate burden of toxic pollution exposure. This report identifies the Top 15 communities most impacted by toxic air pollution and provides the names of the companies emitting the pollution along with the names of the pollutants they are releasing into our air.
It should come as no surprise that the most persistent sources of toxic pollution are too often found in poorer communities and in communities of color. These communities that are frequently ignored and are the most vulnerable to the argument that environmental protections will only come at the expense of jobs. As is evident from the top fifteen polluted zip codes in Virginia identified in this report, these communities may be found in urban settings like Richmond or in rural “company towns” dominated by one industry that serves as the major employer.