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UCLA students create website on toxic emissions

A team of seven UCLA environmental science students has created a website that shows how emissions from local factories are impacting air quality in Los Angeles County.

Cal EcoMaps, launched this month, features an interactive map with detailed information about 172 facilities representing the top four emitting industries — petroleum, primary metals, fabricated metals and chemical production.

The website, created as part of the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory University Challenge, will help residents of the Los Angeles Basin access information related to factory-produced toxic emissions. It will also benefit industrial facility operators, giving them a better sense of their environmental impact, how their sites compare to others and how they might improve their records.

"We wanted to target these four industries because they account for 89 percent of the total toxic releases in L.A. County," said student Leanna Huynh. Primary metals, she said, account for 38 percent of emissions, while petroleum accounts for 31 percent, fabricated metals make up 15 percent, and chemical producers are responsible for 5 percent.

Each of the facilities included in the report was individually graded on a number of variables, including the total amount of toxic releases, releases per $1,000 of revenue, the percentage of waste treated through preferred management practices, and the cancer risks.

Students assigned each facility a score out of 100, with a lower score representing lower environmental impact. For example, in primary metals processing (iron, steel, copper, aluminum and other metals), Quemetco Inc. and Exide Technologies had some of the highest environmental impact scores in Los Angeles County — 89 and 78, respectively. On the other end of the scale, Sapa Extruder Inc. scored 3 and Cast-Rite Corp scored 6, making them the lowest-impact facilities in the primary metals industry.

"Cal EcoMaps is expected to be a valuable resource for both L.A. residents and industry because it brings together disparate information in one easy-to-use interface to tell a clear story about relative environmental impact and performance," said Steve Knitzer, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s toxics release inventory program. "The methodology and metrics developed by this team of students are entirely new and provide an example that other researchers can emulate when analyzing pollution data for their own areas of interest."



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