New Report Reveals Previously Unreported Facility-Level Emissions for Four Heavy Industries: Steel, Cement, Aluminum, and Metallurgical Coke

Analysis also details local communities' exposure to toxic pollution from nearby facilities

Ginny Cleaveland, Deputy Press Secretary, Federal Communications, Sierra Club,, 415-508-8498 (Pacific Time)

WASHINGTON, DC — A new report, database, and interactive map commissioned by the Sierra Club reveals for the first time the greenhouse gas emissions intensity at every domestic facility in the US for four heavy industries: steel, cement, aluminum, and metallurgical coke. The report, “Coming Clean on Industrial Emissions”, also profiles the fenceline communities living near these facilities, examines the public health impact of these sectors, and details employment figures at each facility — underscoring the importance of federal investments in these critical sectors to the US economy that will both grow employment and reduce pollution.

While previous public estimates exist for climate and toxic pollution from these sectors, this is the first time a public database has been made available that compares hundreds of facilities with their peers within the industry. The report examines 100 facilities that produce iron and steel, 12 facilities that produce metallurgical coke (used in iron and steel manufacturing), 96 facilities that produce cement, and 7 facilities that produce aluminum. These facilities directly employ more than 100,000 workers, while also supporting hundreds of thousands of additional jobs throughout the supply chain.

With the US industrial sector responsible for nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, alongside significant toxic air pollution harmful to public health, the study should help inform areas where increased pollution monitoring is needed, spotlight best practices within these heavy industries, and support public engagement efforts around policies to transform American manufacturing — including informing purchasing decisions through federal initiatives like Buy Clean and federal investments through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.

"US manufacturing, once a cornerstone of the world's economy, is due for a revival. Thanks to strategic public investments and demand-side policies like Buy Clean, we have more resources than ever to rebuild our industries and transform the manufacturing sector into one that works for people and the planet. These investments will lead to cleaner air and water, support stable high-paying jobs, and deliver crucial public health benefits to communities living near these facilities,” said Iliana Paul, Senior Policy Advisor with the Sierra Club.

Uncertainties of publicly available data

The study examines the widespread uncertainty in the accuracy of publicly available greenhouse gas emissions and toxic emissions data from heavy manufacturing, largely due to leeway from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in how facilities report data. Many facilities rely on the least accurate measurements when reporting on their greenhouse gas emissions, while also using assumptions and subjective judgment when reporting on their toxic releases. 

Across the study, the majority of facilities are located in low-income communities and communities already overburdened by fine particulate pollution. For example, people living near metallurgical coke and steel facilities suffer from higher-than-average cancer risk from toxic air pollution and are predominately communities of color. 

The report details the health impacts of one of six air pollutants (PM 2.5) in each sector. For example, the iron and steel sector, which has the biggest public health impact across all the sectors in the report, contributes to between 900 and 2,000 excess deaths per year; more than 400 hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular events per year; more than 30,000 incidences of upper and lower respiratory symptoms; more than 20,000 incidences of asthma exacerbation; and nearly 100,000 work loss days per year.

“By outlining where publicly available resources on toxic pollution lack precision, we hope to help raise public awareness about these issues and pinpoint areas for the US government to intensify monitoring — including through stricter EPA reporting standards,” said Yong Kwon, Senior Policy Advisor with the Sierra Club. “While there is not currently a way to eliminate all PM 2.5 emissions from the heavy industrial sector, in many cases, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating the use of fossil fuels would contribute to the reduction of other air pollutants as well.”

Data highlights

The report paints an overall picture of the scope 1 (direct) and scope 2 (purchased energy) emissions for each of the four sectors, with the cement, iron, and steel industries combined making up the bulk of these emissions (90%). (See table 16 in the report.) The scope 1 emissions for the cement, iron, and steel industries alone (1.2 trillion metric tons CO2 equivalent) are the equivalent to the CO2 emissions of 268 million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles driven for one year — which is more than all the gas- and diesel-powered cars on the road in 2022.

The report reveals that even without any additional technological advancements, these sectors can achieve modest reductions in carbon emissions merely by pushing facilities with below average performance to meet the current top performers. This showcases why these heavy industrial sectors must modernize, and how some facilities could easily reduce emissions simply by following the best practices of their peers. For example, metallurgical coke facilities could reduce their scope 1 and 2 emissions by 28% if every facility reached the average emissions intensity. Aluminum facilities could reduce their scope 1 and 2 emissions by 19% if every facility reached average emissions intensity. (See table 19 in the report.)

The Department of Energy states that an 87% emissions reduction in the heavy industrial sector by 2050 (from 2015 levels) is both possible and necessary, with a 58% reduction by 2040 needed to be on that pathway. The report reveals that very few facilities currently operate with an emissions intensity far below the sectoral average, demonstrating that industrial decarbonization is not a problem with one or two bad actors, but a sector-wide challenge that requires whole-of-economy changes. (See tables 20 & 21 in the report.) 

Regulations of hazardous air pollutants

The EPA is currently revising its regulation on hazardous air pollutants, like benzene and lead, from iron, steel, and metallurgical coke facilities. These standards are reviewed and updated less than once every decade, making this an important moment to call upon EPA to require greater data integrity and transparency from these sectors.

“While there has been increasing attention on greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful pollution from the fossil fuel industry (with very good reason), the environmental and public health impacts of the heavy industrial sector continue to garner insufficient public scrutiny. But the people living in the communities around these facilities know that their air, water, and land are being poisoned,” said Joab Schultheis, Energy Committee Chair with the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter in Indiana. 

“Many automakers are going to increasingly require green steel, and US steel makers should be able to meet that demand. The same is true for other industries. If the US heavy industrial sector wants to enjoy continued long-term success, it must significantly lower emissions, which will be central to its ability to provide good paying jobs and protect the health of the communities it operates in.”

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit