Report: 5.7 Million Pounds of Toxic Chemicals Dumped into New York’s Waterways

Environment New York Research & Policy Center

Industrial facilities dumped more than 5.7 million pounds of toxic chemicals into New York’s waterways in 2010, making the Hudson, Genesee, and Seneca Rivers among the 40 worst in the nation, according to a new report released today by Environment New York.  Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act assesses toxic discharges into nearly 1,900 rivers, lakes, and streams across the country, highlighting problems in New York and nationally.

“Despite the great progress in cleaning up the Hudson River, industries are still dumping millions of pounds of toxic pollution into it,” said David VanLuven, Director of Environment New York.  “More than 1.6 million pounds were discharged into it in 2010, which is simply unacceptable.  We must stop the flow of toxic pollution by restoring Clean Water Act protections to our waterways and making polluters clean up their processes.”

“Clearwater applauds Environment New York for sharing the truth about our Toxic releases into the Hudson River,” said Clearwater Executive Director Jeff Rumpf.  “Many people who love the river will be surprised to see how poorly we are doing adhering to the Clean Water Act.  We must do more to stem toxic and sewage releases on the river.  It is time for the swim-able fish-able, potable and boat-able river we all want!”

“This report spells out in stark detail how our environmental regulators are failing to make real progress toward achieving the ‘fishable, swimmable’ goal of the Clean Water Act,” said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director for Riverkeeper.  “While the Hudson River is much cleaner than it was forty years ago when Riverkeeper was founded, it is clear New York State must do much more to address industrial discharges.  After forty years, the public deserves better from our environmental regulators.”

Environment New York’s report documents and analyzes the dangerous levels of pollutants discharged to America’s waters by compiling toxic chemical releases reported to the U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2010, the most recent data available.

Major findings of the report include:

  • The Finch Paper facility in Glens Falls discharged more than 1.4 million pounds of toxic pollution into the Hudson River in 2010, making the Hudson the 24th most polluted river in the country (compared to more than 1,800 rivers and lakes analyzed).
  • The Genesee and Seneca Rivers are also among the nation’s dirtiest, ranking as the 32nd and 33rd worst in America, respectively.
  • In 2010, more than 18,000 pounds of cancer-causing toxins were discharged into Lake Champlain.

Environment New York’s 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 reduced fertility.  Among the toxic chemicals discharged by facilities are arsenic, mercury, and benzene.  Exposure to these chemicals is linked to cancer, developmental disorders, and reproductive disorders.

In order to curb the flow of toxic pollution into New York’s rivers and lakes, Environment New York recommends the following:

  1. Pollution Prevention:  Industrial facilities should reduce their toxic discharges to waterways by switching from hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives.
  2. Protect all waters:  The Obama administration should finalize guidelines and conduct rulemaking to clarify that the Clean Water Act applies to all of our waterways – including the 45,533 miles of streams in New York– for which jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act has been called into question as a result of two polluter-driven Supreme Court decisions in the last decade.
  3. 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.

“The bottom line is that New York’s waterways shouldn’t be a polluter’s paradise, they should just be paradise. We need clean water now, and we are counting on the state and federal government to act to protect our health and our environment,” concluded VanLuven.