Nearly 3.5 Million Pounds of Toxic Chemicals Discharged into Iowa Waterways

Environment Iowa

Industrial facilities dumped nearly three and a half million pounds of toxic chemicals into Iowa’s waterways, over 700,000 pounds of which were discharged into the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, according to a report released today by Environment Iowa titled, Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act.

“Tyson Fresh Meats up in Perry released over a tenth of that figure – 391,300 lbs. directly into the Raccoon River,” said Eric Nost, state associate with Environment Iowa.

Nost was joined by Shannan Garretson, water program legal analyst with the Iowa Environmental Council, and Mike Delaney, president of the Raccoon River Watershed Association, an all-volunteer, non-profit group dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the river and its watershed.

Delaney says that because of poor water quality, “now paddlers and hunters are complaining about rashes, sores and sick dogs due to contact with the rivers and lakes in the Raccoon watershed.”

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

Other major findings of the report include:

  • Nationally, 232 million pounds of toxic chemicals were released to American waterways during 2007 by industrial facilities.
  • Tyson Fresh Meats released 1,388,270 pounds of toxic chemical waste into the Iowa and Cedar Rivers at Columbus Junction. This plant was the largest reported polluter of toxic chemicals in the state in 2007.
  • Nitrates account for 90% of the volume of all TRI discharges. These are the same compounds, typically associated with farm runoff, that less than a month ago contributed to an algae bloom which prompted the city to stop drawing from the Raccoon for drinking water.

“Luckily, there are common-sense steps that can be taken to turn the tide against toxic pollution of our waters,” added Nost.

In order to curb the toxic pollution threatening the Des Moines, the Raccoon, and other bodies of water, Environment Iowa 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.
  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.

“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 Nost.