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Pennsylvania is #1 In All the Wrong Things

...or close to it...
For a more detailed list of Pennsylvania's rankings on energy issues, see our page on Pennsylvania's Dirty Energy Legacy.
  • The nuclear, coal and oil industries all got their start in Pennsylvania, leaving behind a legacy of damage. The worst commercial nuclear accident in U.S. history was at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, PA. The infamous Centralia mine fire in northeast Pennsylvania has been burning for well over 40 years. In fact, Pennsylvania is home to 94% of the remaining underground mine fires in the U.S.1

  • Pennsylvania is by far the largest importer of municipal waste (garbage).

  • The largest dioxin-emitting garbage incinerator in the U.S. used to be located in a poor, minority section of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. On June 18th, 2003, it was finally shut down, but not without plans for a future incinerator.

  • The largest election fraud fine in U.S. history was against Empire Sanitary Landfill, Inc. of Scranton, PA, for funneling $129,000 in illegal corporate money to 10 federal campaigns from 1994 through 1996. One recipient of this money is Pennsylvania's very own Senator Arlen Specter.2

  • Pennsylvania is #2 in the nation for fluoride emissions and downwind from #1, Ohio.

  • One of the nation's worst case of environmental racism is in the city of Chester, PA -- a city which is continually threatened by additional waste and other polluting facilities.

  • In the United States, Pennsylvania is #1 for emissions from coal mining, #1 for landfilling lead, #2 for air emissions of lead from smokestacks, #3 for dioxin emissions, #3 for mercury compound smokestack emissions, and is #5 overall for air emissions.3

  • Pennsylvania's coal plants are #1 in mercury emissions and #2 in sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions (contributing to acid rain). They are also #6 in carbon dioxide (CO2, a greenhouse gas) emissions and #9 in nitrogen oxide (NOx, another contributor to acid rain) emissions (source: Lethal Legacy: The Dirty Truth About The Nationís Most Polluting Power Plants)

  • Pennsylvania has the second worst acid rain in the country, following West Virginia.4

  • America's first Coal-to-Oil Refinery is planned for Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.

  • Pennsylvania's coal mines have claimed more lives than in any other state.5

  • Pennsylvania is the worst state in the U.S. for acid mine drainage. Over 2,400 miles of Pennsylvania's streams are contaminated by the runoff from abandoned mines.6

  • Pennsylvania is ranked in the top 11 states for tire piles. These 11 states collectively share 91% of all the tire dumps in the U.S. Pennsylvania shares the #3 rank for the number of active cement kiln tire burners, after the big ones, California and Texas. The three burners are all located in the Lehigh Valley.15

  • Pennsylvania ranks #1 in water pollution ("NPDES") permits. In a few years leading up to 1997, DEP issued 2,026 individual discharge permits, nearly 700 more than the second-ranked state. In addition, Pennsylvania registered almost double the number of permits issued by the other EPA Region III states of Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia and Washington, D.C. combined.7

  • Pennsylvania is #3 for the number of housing units with high risk of lead hazards.

  • Pennsylvania has the 2nd largest number of Superfund toxic waste dumps next to New Jersey. PA has 97 sites on the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL).

  • The first U.S. nuclear power plant was built in 1957 in Shippingport, Pennsylvania.

  • Pennsylvania has the 2nd highest number of nuclear reactors next to Illinois, and produces the 2nd highest amount of nuclear waste.8

  • Bradford County in Pennsylvania received the 3rd highest amount of child developmental toxicants to water in the nation.

  • Pennsylvania has the most sites of any state (134) on the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act's (RCRA) Cleanup Baseline list, covering polluting facilities that require early cleanup or remediation to prevent them from becoming Superfund sites.9

  • Pennsylvania's land is 14% urban or developed, compared to the national average of 5%, making it the 3rd most developed state (excluding New England).10

  • Of the 100 dirtiest power plants in the U.S., 5 of the top NOx emitters are in PA, 9 of the top SO2 emitters are in PA, and 7 of the top CO2 emitters are in PA.11

  • Pennsylvania is partial home to three of the top 10 most polluted waterways in the U.S. and Armco Inc. Butler Ops., located in Butler, PA is one of the top 5 worst facilities for water pollution. Overall, Pennsylvania directly discharges the 3rd most toxic waste to water and sewer systems and has the 3rd highest levels of persistent toxic metals and 4th highest levels of carcinogens entering our waterways.12

  • Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh receive the 3rd and 4rth lowest amounts of dedicated funding for their mass transit systems (SEPTA and PAT) in the entire nation.13

  • Pennsylvania is among the top 10 states in the U.S. where the rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer. From the 1970s to mid-1990s, Pennsylvania's income disparity has grown drastically.

  • Pennsylvania ranks #6 in worst-case disaster potential from industrial facilities.14


1 Dan Simon, "The Ground is Burning," Green Works Radio, July 15, 2002.

2 Refer to CNN's coverage of the election fraud.

3 These rankings are based on EPA Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data for 2002, accessible at:

4 Acid rain ranking is based on annual laboratory pH data from 2003 from the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP). According to field pH samples, Pennsylvania is still in 2nd place, however trailing Ohio rather than West Virginia.

5 According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), 13,793 lives have been claimed in coal mine disasters since 1839. Of those, 3278 occured in Pennsylvania, 2614 in West Virgina, and 1050 in Illinois.

6 The incidence of acid mine drainage is well-documented by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Pennsylvania has one-third of all the abandoned mine-related problems in the country. Unreclaimed coal mines are Pennsylvania's single biggest water quality problem. Environmental problems caused by past mining affect 45 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. Pennsylvania has 250,000 acres of unreclaimed mine land. Old underground mines lay beneath more than 150,000 acres of land that may collapse. Pennsylvania has 83,261 miles of flowing water -- second only to Alaska -- but as many as one-third of those rivers, creeks and streams have been polluted by acid mine drainage, sewage, agricultural runoff or urban storm water runoff (source Don Hopey, Post-Gazette: "Making us conscious of streams" May 18, 2001.)

7 See the DEP Update (6/20/97).

8 So-called "low-level" nuclear waste includes all radioactive waste from nuclear reactors except for the irradiated fuel rods themselves. Pennsylvania is the 2nd to 4th highest state in the amount of this waste that is generated and disposed of (most of which is shipped to a leaking nuclear waste dump in a poor, minority community in Barnwell, South Carolina). According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's website, Pennsylvania is #2 behind Tennessee: According to the U.S. Department of Energy's "1998 State-by-State Assessment of Low-Level Radioactive Wastes Received at Commercial Disposal Sites" report, Pennsylvania ranks #4 behind Georgia, New York and Illinois for the amount (measured by radioactivity, not volume) of waste disposed of between 1994 and 1998:

9 There are currently two environmental indicators against which progress towards the 2005 RCRA Cleanup Baseline goals are measured: Human Exposures Controlled (CA725) and Migration of Contaminated Groundwater Controlled (CA750). Documentation about this list can be found at EPA.

10 Land use statistics according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Resources Inventory.

11 Pollution rankings compiled by U.S. PIRG, Lethal Legacy: The Dirty Truth About The Nationís Most Polluting Power Plants.

12 Statistics and rankings courtesy of U.S. PIRG, "Troubled Waters: A Report on Toxic Releases into America's Waterways," September 10, 1998.

13 Washington, D.C. and Miami receive the least amount of dedicated funding for mass transit. See the Brookings Institute report, "Washington's Metro: Deficits by Design," June 2004.

14 Chemical risk documented in "Too Close To Home: A Report on Chemical Accident Risks in the United States," U.S. PIRG, July 22, 1998.

15 From the U.S. Scrap Tire Markets: 2003 Report, Rubber Manufacturers Association, July 2004.

Last modified: 22 February 2005

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