Coming Clean on Industrial Emissions: Challenges, Inequities and Opportunities in U.S. Steel, Aluminum, Cement, and Coke

Sierra Club
Project completed.

On behalf of the Sierra Club, Synapse conducted a comprehensive nationwide study of the environmental, health, equity, and economic impacts of industrial facilities. For this work, we evaluated the industrial processes of iron, steel, metallurgical coke, cement, and aluminum production to illuminate the stages in which specific pollutants are produced. Synapse also summarized the “state of the data” by reviewing existing literature, analyzing facility-level emissions data in light of recent federal buy clean policies, and identifying promising decarbonization technologies. The resulting report and accompanying tools seek to assemble all publicly available data on U.S. facility-level pollution, production, health impacts, and employment from the iron, steel, metallurgical coke, aluminum, and cement industries. Additionally, Synapse coupled this information with an environmental justice analysis of fence-line communities surrounding these facilities. We prepared a nationally consistent, easy-to-use database and interactive webtool to disseminate this data, inform policymaking, and guide community action. The results also serve to benchmark current emissions, assess uncertainty in reported data, and identify steps to improve data quality and access. You can find the full report here as well as the interactive map here.

For the industries we study, this work constitutes a first-of-its-kind effort to assemble and disseminate comprehensive, facility-level emissions as well as produce data, assess health impacts, quantify environmental justice indicators, and evaluate approaches to reduce emissions. We conclude the following:

1.    Pollutants from the facilities are responsible for alarming rates of premature deaths, hospital admits, lost worker productivity, and respiratory and cardiac damage.

2.    Iron and steel facilities have the largest impact on human health among the facilities we studied.

3.    Compared to the United States on average, fence-line communities that support industrial facilities are socioeconomically and environmentally disadvantaged. Metcoke, iron, and steel communities are most affected.

4.    Against a backdrop of diminishing domestic manufacturing, the 211 facilities in this study employ approximately 100,000 workers and represent an important segment of local economies throughout the United States. 

5.    Policies that seek to bolster domestic manufacturing and reduce industrial emissions should be coupled with workforce development initiatives.

6.    Industrial Buy Clean policies and emission standards are promising strategies to incentivize or require materials with low GHG emission intensities.

7.    Deploying pollution control strategies at industrial facilities can provide important employment opportunities while reducing adverse health and environmental impacts.

8.    A vast array of technologies that can reduce or eliminate pollutants from industrial facilities are available, and many more are under development.

9.    Reducing emissions in the electricity sector is an important industrial decarbonization strategy.

10.    Our review of prior studies and existing public information, highlights several data gaps that hinder effective policymaking and action. 

11.    The accuracy of available greenhouse gas emissions data, and toxic emissions reporting data is uncertain, largely due to the range of reporting methods available to facilities.

12.    This study is an important step in studying the current state of the industry and evaluating emissions reduction opportunities, but further work is needed to inform emissions reduction initiatives.