Nine Million Pounds of Toxic Chemicals Dumped into Ohio’s Waterways

Environment Ohio Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group

Cleveland, Ohio—Industrial facilities dumped nine million pounds of toxic chemicals into Ohio’s waterways, making Ohio the 9th worst in the nation, according to a new report released today by Environment Ohio. Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act also reports that 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals were discharged into 1,400 waterways across the country.

“Ohio’s waterways are a polluter’s paradise right now. Polluters dump nine million pounds of toxic chemicals into Ohio’s lakes, rivers and streams every year,” said Sarah Hyman, Clean Water Associate with Environment Ohio. “We must turn the tide of toxic pollution by restoring Clean Water Act protections to our waterways.”

The Environment Ohio report documents and analyzes the dangerous levels of pollutants discharged into 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.

“Our city and region’s biggest asset is Lake Erie and its tributaries,” said Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins of Ward 14. “Water quality is critical to the health of the lake and our waterways and, although much progress has been made, there is still a lot to be done in enforcing and strengthening our existing laws.” 

Major findings of the report include:

  • Industrial facilities discharged approximately 3,700 pounds of chemicals linked to developmental disorders and reproductive problems into the Cuyahoga River.
  • The Ohio River is ranked 1st in the nation for highest amount of total toxic discharges, with 32 million pounds discharged in 2010.
  • AK Steel Corporation was the biggest polluter in Ohio, dumping 5.5 million pounds of toxic pollution into our waterways. Furthermore, AK Steel Corporation was the 3rd biggest polluter in the country.

Environment Ohio’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.

“As community leaders we must work to protect and improve the quality of life of our residents,” said Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Sunny Simon of District 11. “In order to address quality of life issues, we must take action to protect our environment, including our waterways and natural spaces. Based upon the findings in the new report, it is critical that we take decisive action now.”

“There are common-sense steps that we can take to turn the tide against toxic pollution of our waters,” added Hyman.

In order to curb the toxic pollution threatening the Cuyahoga River and Ohio’s waters, Environment Ohio 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 a rulemaking to clarify that the Clean Water Act applies to all of our waterways – including the 51 thousand miles of streams in Ohio and 5.2 million Ohioans’ drinking water for which jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act has been called into question as a result of two polluter-driven Supreme Court decisions made 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 pollutant discharged, ratchet down those limits over time, and enforce those limits with credible penalties, not just warning letters.


“We need the Clean Water Act to protect every stream and every body of water, no matter how small or how far from the river, lake or ocean,” said Jane Goodman, Executive Director of the Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization. “Healthy waters are always on the move, and our efforts to protect them need to keep moving forward, not backward.”


“The bottom line is that Ohio’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 federal government to act to protect our health and our environment,” concluded Hyman.



Environment Ohio is a state-based, citizen-funded environmental advocacy group working to protect clean air, clean water and open spaces.

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