Toxic Chemicals Found in New York Waterways

Media Contacts
Heather Leibowitz

Environment New York Research and Policy


New York, NY—Industrial facilities dumped 5,303,190 pounds of toxic chemicals into New York’s waterways in 2012 making New York’s waterways the 15th worst in the nation, according to a new report by Environment New York Research & Policy Center.

The “Wasting Our Waters” report comes as the Environmental Protection Agency considers a new rule to restore Clean Water Act protections to thousands of waterways in New York and across the nation.
“New York’s waterways should be clean — for swimming, drinking, and supporting wildlife,” said Heather Leibowitz, the Director of Environment New York. “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.”

Environment New York Research & Policy Center’s report on toxic pollutants discharged into America’s waters is based on data reported by polluting facilities to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2012, the most recent data available.

Major findings of the report include:

  • Eastman Kodak Co. was the top discharging facility (weighted by toxicity concentration) in all of New York State, dumping 12,151 pounds of toxic pollution into the Lower Genesee River.
  • 1,396,149 pounds of toxic waste from Anheuser-Busch Inc. facilities were dumped into the Oswego River in Baldwinsville, NY in 2012.
  • 5,303,190 total pounds of toxic chemicals were dumped into all of New York’s waterways.
  • Industrial facilities discharged approximately 16,868 pounds of chemicals linked to cancer, 1,873 pounds of chemicals linked to developmental disorders, and 21,676 pounds of chemicals linked to reproductive problems into New York waterways.

Environment New York Research & Policy Center report 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 New York include antimony and antimony compounds, which cause cancer, and developmental toxins, such as lead and lead compounds, which can cause cancer as well as affect the way children grow, learn, and behave. 

Environment New York Research and Policy Center uncovered that IBM Corp. has dumped 987,302 pounds of nitrate compounds into the Wiccopee Creek in Hopewell Junction. Nitrate compounds can cause serious health problems in infants if found in drinking water and contribute to oxygen-depleted ‘dead zones’ in waterways.

“Our researchers also found that 227,000 pounds of toxic chemicals were dumped into waterways that flow into the Long Island Sound,” said Leibowitz. “These chemicals include polycyclic aromatic compounds, lead, copper, nitrate, manganese, and acrylamide.” 

“It is critical for us to identify the sources of pollution to our area’s vulnerable water supply.  The vitality of the Long Island Sound has been increasingly threatened by the proliferation of harmful algae blooms, which are due in part to the increasing nitrogen levels,” said Long Island Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo. “We are at a critical point at which proactive action must be taken to preserve not only the Sound, but the aquifers that Long Island derives its potable water from.  I have co-sponsored legislation [A9788] in the Assembly, [which] establishes the Long Island water pollution control act and the Long Island commission on aquifer protection, which will give our localities and New York State the tools we need to confront this issue head on.  Yesterday this bill was voted on and passed in both the Assembly and the Senate and it now goes on to the Governor for his consideration and signature.”

“The data clearly shows that a range of pollutants, including some of the very toxic chemicals are released in significant amounts in the Hudson River system by few specific companies,” said Hari K. Pant, the director of the Environmental Studies Department at Lehman College. “These pollutants are not only harmful to human but also to aquatic life. These companies must do more to cease releasing these pollutants into the river so that one of the most important river systems in the country is protected for both people and aquatic life. Putting the emphasis on the urgency for responsible practices by the individual companies involved is paramount. We must thank ‘Environment New York’ for bringing this issue to the public.”

“Government has to do more to stop continual damage to our natural resources,” said 4th district Councilman Khalid Bey. “For years corporations have sought to reduce their cost for the management and/or disposal of toxic chemicals used for their business purposes; and this they’ve often done at the expense of tax payers, and of course the environment. Today, more than any time in the past, public/private partnerships are of extreme importance in the effort to revitalize the financial health of municipalities. A corporation that is guilty of polluting our waterways is more of a liability, than community asset. Corporate responsibility in this matter cannot be overstated.”

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 New York 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 New York’s waters.

As a result of court cases brought by polluters, 28,785 miles of streams in New York and 11,146,815 million New Yorkers drinking water are now at risk of having no protection from pollution under the federal Clean Water Act. Following years of advocacy by Environment Research & Policy Center and its allies, this spring, the EPA finally proposed a rule to close the loopholes that have left New York’s waterways at risk and restore Clean Water Act protections.

But the clean water rule is being vigorously opposed by a wide range of polluting industries outside New York – from the oil and gas industry to corporate agribusiness. 

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

“New York’s waterways shouldn’t be a polluter’s dumping ground,” said Leibowitz.  “If we want the Hudson River to be clean for future generations of New Yorkers, we must restore Clean Water Act protections to all of our waterways, and we must do it now.”