Industrial polluters dumping into rivers and lakes as Trump administration rolls back clean water protections

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Environment America Research & Policy Center

Industrial facilities dumped excessive pollution into U. S. waterways at least 8,148 times over a recent 21-month period, according to Troubled Waters, a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group.  Adding insult to injury, few of the polluters faced any penalties. Moreover, the Trump administration is moving to weaken several clean water protections and has proposed slashing enforcement funding for U.S. EPA and the states.

“All of our rivers and lakes should be clean  for swimming, drinking water, and wildlife,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America.  “But industrial polluters are dumping chemicals into our waters across the country, and no one is holding them accountable.”

In reviewing Clean Water Act compliance data from January 2016 to September 2017, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group found that major industrial facilities have been regularly releasing pollution at levels above legal  limits set to protect human health and the environment. In 10 states, industrial facilities released pollution beyond their permit limits a total of at least 270 times.

For example, a U.S. Steel facility in Indiana repeatedly dumped hexavalent chromium and other pollutants into a small waterway that flows into Lake Michigan, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ICIS database.  Hexavalent chromium causes cancer as well as kidney and liver damage. After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Indiana Department of Environmental Management failed to take enforcement action, the Surfrider Foundation filed a lawsuit against the company.  

“U.S. Steel’s violations, which include dangerous hexavalent chromium discharges at the south end of Lake Michigan, threaten the health and safety of surfers and others who recreate in the water,” said Surfrider Foundation Legal Associate Staley Prom.  “We are hopeful that through Surfrider’s lawsuit, U.S. Steel will be required to take all appropriate remedial measures to correct its operational and maintenance deficiencies, and be penalized sufficiently to ensure U.S. Steel will stop polluting Lake Michigan.”

The report also shows that polluters rarely face penalties from federal or state agencies, and recommends stronger enforcement and protections for clean water.

Unfortunately, decision makers in Washington could soon make the pattern of pollution worse.  In addition to the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken clean water protections, this week, Congress is debating a spending bill that includes several anti-environmental riders.

“Our elected officials should be doing everything they can to protect clean water, rather than protecting corporate polluters” said Rumpler.  “Without enforcement of the Clean Water Act, our rivers and lakes become a polluters’ playground.”