206 Million Pounds of Toxic Chemicals Dumped into America’s Waterways

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Environment America Research & Policy Center

WASHINGTON, DC – From the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes to the Puget Sound, industrial facilities dumped more than 206 million pounds of toxic chemicals into America’s waterways in 2012, according to a new report by Environment America Research and Policy Center. The “Wasting Our Waterways” report comes as the Environmental Protection Agency considers a new rule to restore Clean Water Act protections to 2 million miles of critical waterways across the nation – a move bitterly opposed by the lobbyists for corporate agribusiness, including the American Farm Bureau.

“America’s waterways should be clean – for swimming, drinking, and supporting wildlife,” said Ally Fields, clean water advocate with Environment America Research and Policy Center. “But too often, our waters have become a dumping ground for polluters. The first step to curb this tide of toxic pollution is to restore Clean Water Act protections to all our waterways.”

Based on data submitted by polluting facilities themselves, the group’s report uses information from the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2012, the most recent data available. Major findings of the report include:

• Our nation’s iconic waterways are still threatened by toxic pollution – with polluters discharging huge volumes of chemicals into the watersheds of the Great Lakes (8.39 million pounds), the Chesapeake Bay (3.23 million pounds), the Upper Mississippi River (16.9 million pounds), and the Puget Sound (578,000 pounds) among other beloved waterways.

• Tyson Foods Inc. is the parent-company reporting dumping the largest discharge of toxic chemicals into our waterways, with a total of 18,556,479 lbs – 9 percent of the nationwide total of toxic discharges. Of the top ten parent-companies by total pounds of toxics released, four are corporate agribusiness companies (Tyson Inc., Cargill Inc., Perdue Farms Inc, and Pilgrims Pride Corp.).

• Corporate agribusiness facilities, the report also finds, were responsible for approximately one-third of all direct discharges of nitrates to our waterways, which can cause health problems in infants and contribute to “dead zones” in our waters. For example, pollution in the Mississippi River watershed has contributed to the massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Of the several steps needed to curb this tide of toxic pollution, Environment America Research and Policy Center is highlighting one piece of the solution that could become a reality this year: The EPA’s proposed rule to restore Clean Water Act protections to more than 2 million miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country.

As a result of court cases brought by polluters, more than half of America’s streams and the drinking water for 117 million Americans are now at risk of having no protection from pollution under the federal Clean Water Act. Following years of advocacy by Environment America Research and Policy Center’s and its allies, this spring, the EPA finally proposed a rule to close the loopholes that have left America’s waterways and risk and restore Clean Water Act protections.

“It’s high time that we restore protections for the drinking water for 1 in 3 Americans,” said Fields. “That’s why today we are releasing this report and running an ad in Politico as part of a broad effort to educate the public and engage elected officials to weigh in with the Obama administration in support of its Clean Water Act rulemaking.”

But corporate agribusiness is vigorously opposing these critical clean water protections.

“Looking at the data from our report today, you can see why polluters might oppose any efforts to better protect our waters,” said Ally Fields. “That’s why we are working with farmers, small businesses, and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans to make sure our voices for clean water are heard in Washington, D.C. The future of the waterways we love – from the Chesapeake Bay to the Colorado River – hangs in the balance.”

The public comment period on the clean water rule began the day before Earth Day, and it is open through October 20.

“America’s waterways shouldn’t be a polluter’s dumping ground,” said Fields. “If we want our waterways to be clean for future generations to enjoy, we must restore Clean Water Act protections to our waterways now.”