Over 230 Million Pounds of Toxics Discharged into American Waterways

Media Contacts

Environment America Research & Policy Center

Industrial facilities dumped 232 million pounds of toxic chemicals into America’s waterways, according to a report released today by Environment America Research & Policy Center: “Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act”. The report also finds that toxic chemicals were discharged in 1,900 waterways across all 50 states. 

“While nearly half of the rivers and lakes in the U.S. are considered too polluted for safe fishing or swimming, our report shows that polluters continue to use our waterways as dumping grounds for their toxic chemicals,” said Piper Crowell, Clean Water Advocate for Environment America.

“On October 15, our Committee held a hearing to examine how the deterioration of the EPA’s Clean Water Act enforcement program has set back our progress in achieving the central goals of the Clean Water Act,” said Rep. James L. Oberstar (Minn.), Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.  “Today, we learned of the very frightening, tangible impacts on human health and the environment that occur when toxic substances are allowed to enter our waters.  The fact that many industrial facilities are exploiting the system and using the nation’s waterways as toxic dumping grounds is nothing less than a public health crisis.”

The Environment America report documents and analyzes the dangerous levels of pollutants discharged in to America’s waters by compiling toxic chemical releases reported to the U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2007, the most recent data available. 

Major findings of the report include:

  • Indiana topped the nation with over 27 million pounds of toxic chemicals dumped into the state’s waterways in 2007. 
  • ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Baton Rouge Refinery released over 4.2 million pounds of toxic chemical waste into the Mississippi River in Louisiana. The ExxonMobil refinery was one of the largest reported polluter of toxic chemicals in the country in 2007. 
  • The top three waterways in the nation for most total toxic chemicals discharged in 2007 were the Ohio River, New River, and Mississippi River. The Ohio River also topped the nation for toxic chemicals that are cancer causing and chemicals that cause reproductive disorders. The Alabama River had the highest amount of toxic chemicals causing developmental disorders in the nation in 2007. 

“Our waterways are a source of sport and recreation. We need them protected, not polluted,” said Gary Botzek, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation.

Environment America’s report summarizes the discharge of cancer-causing chemicals, chemicals that persist in the environment, and chemicals with the potential to cause reproductive problems ranging from birth defects to reduced fertility. Among the toxic chemicals discharged by facilities are lead, mercury, and dioxin. When dumped into waterways, these toxic chemicals contaminate drinking water and are absorbed by the fish that people eventually eat. Exposure to these chemicals is linked to cancer, developmental disorders, and reproductive disorders. In 2007, manufacturing facilities discharged approximately 1.5 million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals into American waters.

“There are common-sense steps that should be taken to turn the tide against toxic pollution of our waters,” added Crowell. “We need clean water now, and we need the federal government to act to protect our health and our environment.”

In order to curb the toxic pollution threatening America’s waterways, Environment America recommends the following:

  1. Pollution Prevention:  Industrial facilities should reduce their toxic discharges in to waterways by switching from hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives.  
  2. Tough permitting and enforcement:  EPA and state agencies should issue permits with tough, numeric limits for each type of toxic pollution discharged, ratchet down those limits over time, and enforce those limits with credible penalties, not just warning letters.
  3. Protect all waters:  The federal government should adopt policies to clarify that the Clean Water Act applies to all of our waterways. This includes the thousands of headwaters and small streams for which jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act has been called into question, as a result of recent court decisions. 

“This Wasting our Waterways report is a reminder that we have a long way to go to realize the “zero pollution” goals of the Clean Water Act and that we not only need to defend and strengthen this important law but focus our efforts on prevention,” said Lynn Thorp, National Campaigns Coordinator, Clean Water Action.

“We urge Congress and the President to listen to the public’s demands for clean water. They should act to protect all of our lakes, rivers and streams from toxic pollution,” concluded Crowell.