Wasting our Waterways

Media Contacts
Johanna Neumann

Senior Director, Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy, Environment America

Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center

5,555 Pounds of Toxic Chemicals Dumped into Massachusetts’ Waterways

Springfield, MA –Industrial facilities dumped 5,555 pounds of toxic chemicals into Massachusetts’ waterways in 2012 according to a new report by Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center.

The “Wasting Our Waterways” report comes as the Environmental Protection Agency considers a new rule to restore Clean Water Act protections to thousands of waterways in Massachusetts and across the nation.

“Massachusetts’ waterways should be clean – for swimming, drinking, and supporting wildlife,” said Steven Latka, program intern with Environment Massachusetts Research & 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.”

The Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center report is based on data reported by polluting facilities to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2012, the most recent data available.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Massachusetts’ top water polluter in 2012 was Onyx Specialty Papers Inc. in South Lee. The company discharged approximately 3,256 pounds of chemicals linked to cancer, including formaldehyde, into the Housatonic River.
  • In 2012, Massachusetts had the 4th lowest pollution levels of any state nationwide, surpassed only by Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Arizona. Massachusetts should continue to serve as a national example to restrict pollution in our waterways.

“Working together with community officials, legislators and others, we have made extraordinary strides over the past 20 years in improving water quality on the Connecticut River, and have now cleaned up more than 50% of the combined sewer overflow pollution that has impacted the river since the early 1900’s,” said Chris Curtis, Chief Planner and Section Manager for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

 ‘Wasting Our Waterways’ summarizes discharges of cancer-causing chemicals, chemicals that persist in the environment, and chemicals with the potential to cause reproductive problems ranging from birth defects to infertility. The toxic chemicals dumped in Massachusetts include benzene, which causes cancer, and developmental toxins, such as lead and lead compounds which can affect the way children grow, learn, and behave.

The report recommends several steps to curb this tide of toxic pollution – including requiring industry to switch from toxic chemicals to safer alternatives.  But Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center is highlighting one part of the solution that could actually become law this year: Restoring the Clean Water Act protections to all Massachusetts’ waters.

As a result of court cases brought by polluters, 4,279 miles of streams in Massachusetts and just under 5 million Bay-Staters’ drinking water are now at risk of having no protection from pollution under the federal Clean Water Act. Following years of advocacy by Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center and its allies, this spring, the EPA finally proposed a rule to close the loopholes that have left Massachusetts’ waterways at risk and restore Clean Water Act protections.

“I have been the head coach of rowing at the University of Massachusetts for the past 19 years.  In that time I have seen a dramatic change in the quality of the water and surrounding landscape. The Connecticut River is one of Massachusetts greatest and most beautiful resources and needs to be protected,” said Jim Dietz, head coach of the UMASS women’s crew team.

But a wide range of polluting industries, including fossil fuel electric power generation in Massachusetts, are vigorously opposing the clean water rule.  

“Looking at the data from our report today, you can see why polluters might oppose it,” said Latka.  “That’s why we are working with farmers, small businesses, and thousands of ordinary Bay-Staters to make sure our voices for clean water are heard in Washington, D.C.  The future of the Connecticut River hangs in the balance.”

The public comment period on the clean water rule began the day before Earth Day, and it is still open right now.

“Massachusetts’ waterways shouldn’t be a polluter’s dumping ground,” said Latka.  “If we want the Connecticut River to be clean for future generations of Bay-Staters, we must restore Clean Water Act protections to all of our waterways, and we must do it now.”