New map shows top 10 toxic water polluters in California

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LOS ANGELES Just 10 facilities are responsible for nearly all of the reports of toxic substances dumped into California waterways in 2020. These serial polluters are spotlighted in a new interactive map released Tuesday by CALPIRG Education Fund and Environment California Research and Policy Center. Derived from the groups’ 2022 Wasting Our Waterways report, the new map shows the oil refineries and other facilities that told the EPA they collectively spewed more than 2.3 million pounds of toxic industrial water pollution in 2020. The waterways bearing the brunt of this pollution include parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. 

 “Our children deserve a toxic-free future,” said Jenn Engstrom, the state director for CALPIRG Education Fund. “Polluters too often recklessly dispose of chemicals linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive damage. It’s time to stop this toxic dumping.”  

“California’s waterways should be clean – for swimming, fishing, providing drinking water and supporting wildlife,” said Laura Deehan, the state director for Environment California Research and Policy Center. “All too often, polluters exploit outdated standards and use our rivers as open sewers. It’s time to turn the tide on this toxic pollution.”   

The groups’ new map is based on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). Polluters self-report to the TRI their discharge of toxics into surface waters. 

A key reason for such high levels of water pollution: Many of the facilities on the map belong to industries operating under national pollution control standards that are decades old. Environment California recently joined a new lawsuit to compel the EPA to update water pollution controls for other industry sectors including oil refineries, chemical plants and plastics manufacturers.

California officials need not wait for the EPA: The state has the authority under California’s clean water protections to ratchet down pollution limits in each facility’s permit as technology allows or water quality demands.

This legislative session, state lawmakers are considering at least two bills to hold polluters financially accountable for cleaning up after themselves. Assembly Bill 1167 by Asm. Wendy Carrillo requires buyers of oil wells to post a bond for the full cost of plugging and abandoning them after they are no longer producing, in an effort to prevent further health and environmental damage from abandoned wells.  Senate Bill 556 by Sen. Lena Gonzalez would make oil drillers presumptively liable for illnesses linked to their operations.

“Polluters shouldn’t be able to use California’s waterways as a dumping ground,” said Engstrom.  “We need to hold polluters accountable for their pollution that contaminates our communities and make them pay to clean it up”