Tronox, Inc. in Hamilton, Miss., Thursday, December 1, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Chemical plants and paper mills are among the top polluters in Mississippi, which has seen a decrease in the total amount of toxic releases reported to the Environmental Protection Agency over the last five years.

Certain industries are required by federal law to report every year to the EPA their toxic releases, which include air and water emissions as well as land disposals.

Over the last five years, the facilities with the most toxic releases in Mississippi were: 

  1. Tronox, LLC – 72.6 million pounds of releases: Tronox is a chemical plant in Hamilton, which received a $65,000 fine from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality in July for exceeding air pollution limits. MDEQ also issued the facility a $65,000 fine for an air pollution violation in 2013, as well a $7,500 fine in 2011 for not having a groundwater monitoring plan.  
  2. Chemours DeLisle – 72.3 million pounds: Chemours is a chemical plant in DeLisle formerly owned by Dupont. MDEQ has issued the facility multiple fines over the last decade for air pollution violations: a $28,350 fine in 2011; a $117,000 fine in 2012; a $19,500 fine in 2015 for failing to test emissions; and then a $33,750 fine in June for exceeding emissions limits.
  3. Georgia Pacific Leaf River – 15.7 million pounds: Georgia Pacific is a pulp mill in New Augusta. 
  4. Choctaw Generation LP – 10.6 million pounds: Choctaw Generation LP is a coal-fired power plant in Ackerman owned by Southern Company. MDEQ issued the facility a $18,750 fine in 2020 for exceeding water pollutant limits. 
  5. Tyson Farms, Carthage –  9.5 million pounds: Tyson Farms is a poultry processing center in Carthage. In 2016, MDEQ fined the facility $65,000 for unpermitted wastewater discharges. 

Overall, toxic releases reported to the EPA show a 17% decrease in the state from 2017 through 2021, the latest year of available data. The most abundant chemicals in those releases were manganese, nitrate, vanadium, ammonia and chromium.

Tyson Farms Inc. in Carthage, Miss., Thursday, December 1, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

The industries with the most toxic releases in that time were chemical plants, paper and pulp mills, meat products — specifically poultry processors — facilities, fossil fuel power stations, and oil refineries.

But the amount of toxic releases from a facility doesn't tell the whole story. As ProPublica explored in its in-depth analysis of air pollution last year, the EPA assigns a risk score for certain chemicals included in the toxic release data to quantify their threat-level to people living nearby. The analysis found that residents in the Cherokee Forest neighborhood in Pascagoula faced an especially high risk of getting cancer because of nearby air pollution, including from the shipbuilding facility VT Halter Marine, which was recently purchased by Louisiana-based Bollinger Shipyards.

The EPA announced last month that Mississippi would receive a $500,000 grant to measure air pollutants in the neighborhood.

Tronox, Inc. in Hamilton, Miss., Thursday, December 1, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

In 2020, the latest year with available risk, or RSEI, scores, the facilities in Mississippi with the highest scores — a higher score meaning more dangerous emissions — were:

  1. True Temper Sports Inc. (RSEI score: 265,663): a fabricated metals plant in Amory that emits chromium, zinc, and nickel into the air. MDEQ fined the company $37,500 in 2012 for exceeding water pollution limits, and $39,655 in 2013 for a hazardous waste violation.
  2. Rolls-Royce Naval Marine Inc. (RSEI score: 244,407): a facility in Pascagoula that builds propellers for U.S. Navy ships. It emits chromium and nickel into the air.
  3. Chevron Products (RSEI score: 188,439): an oil refinery in Pascagoula that releases mercury and other chemicals into the air and water. In 2017, MDEQ fined the company $70,200 for failing to do required air emission tests.
  4. Georgia Pacific Leaf River (RSEI score: 122,745): a pulp mill in New Augusta that discharges polycyclic aromatic compounds into the water.
  5. Quality Steel Corp. (RSEI score: 85,079): a metals manufacturer in Cleveland that emits chromium and nickel into the air.

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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on NBC.com. In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.