Over 230 Million Pounds of Toxics Discharged into American Waterways

Environment Minnesota

Industrial facilities dumped over 2 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Minnesota’s waterways, according to a report released today by Environment Minnesota: 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 Samantha Chadwick, Associate with Environment Minnesota.

“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.

The Environment Minnesota 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

•    Nationally, 232 million pounds of toxic chemicals were released to American waterways during 2007 by industrial facilities.
•    The Mississippi River is ranked 3rd in the nation for most reproductive toxicant discharges, with 24,418 pounds discharged in 2007. It also ranks 3rd for most developmental toxicants and 4th for cancer-causing chemicals.
•    3M released 1,013,514 pounds of toxic chemical waste into the Mississippi River in Minnesota and was the largest reported polluter of toxic chemicals in Minnesota in 2007. Other large polluters include Flint Hills Resources and Boise White Paper.
•    Other rivers in Minnesota with large amounts of toxic dumping included the Rainy River, The Minnesota River, and the St. Croix. Industrial facilities discharged approximately 557 pounds of chemicals linked to cancer into the Rainy River in Minnesota and approximately 143 pounds of chemicals linked to developmental disorders in to the Minnesota River.

With facilities dumping so much pollution, no one should be surprised that nearly half of our waterways are unsafe for swimming and fishing.  But we should be outraged.

“We need chemicals to be proven safe before they are put into products and the environment” said Kim LaBo, the Program Organizer with the Clean Water Midwest Office, who has been working on chemical policy. She spoke of the alarming cases lately in Minnesota’s waterways; “due to PFC wastewater being dumped into the Mississippi river for decades, fish are highly contaminated and new fish consumption advisories have been issued.”

Environment Minnesota’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 Chadwick “We need to clean up our water now, and we need the federal government to act to protect our health and our environment.”

Issues surrounding toxic pollution and our waters have been receiving much attention at the federal level recently.

“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.), T&I Committee Chairman.  “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.”

In order to curb the toxic pollution threatening the Mississippi, the St. Croix, the Minnesota River and others, Environment Minnesota 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.

“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 Chadwick.