10 Million Pounds of Toxic Chemicals Dumped into Pennsylvania’s Waterways

Ohio and Delaware Rivers top list of most polluted in nation

PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center

Pittsburgh, PA–Industrial facilities dumped more than 10 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Pennsylvania’s waterways, making the state’s waterways the seventh worst in the nation, according to a new report released today by PennEnvironment. 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.

“Pennsylvania’s waterways are a polluter’s paradise right now. Polluters dump 10 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Pennsylvania’s lakes, rivers and streams every year,” said Erika Staaf, Clean Water Advocate with PennEnvironment. “We must turn the tide of toxic pollution by restoring Clean Water Act protections to our waterways.”

The PennEnvironment 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.

“This is certainly not the kind of top ten list where we want Pittsburgh to appear,” said Brenda Smith, Executive Director of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association.  “Our efforts to promote the region as a center of green innovation with a high quality of life are dramatically undercut by the ongoing reality of toxic pollution.”

Major findings of the report include:

  • The Ohio River is ranked 1st in the nation for highest amount of total toxic discharges, with 32 million pounds discharged in 2010. The Monongahela River ranked 17th in the nation with 2.6 million pounds of toxic discharges.
  • U.S. Steel – Clairton Works was the biggest polluter in Pennsylvania, dumping 2.4 million pounds of toxic pollution into the Monongahela River and Peters Creek. Other Pennsylvania facilities on the list included Jewel Acquisition LLC – Midland Plant, which discharged 1.1 million pounds of toxics in the Ohio River, and Carpenter Technology Corporation, which discharged just over 1 million toxics into the Schuylkill River.
  • The Delaware River is ranked fifth in the nation for highest amount of total toxic discharges, with 2.6 million pounds discharged in 2010. The Schuylkill River ranked third in Pennsylvania for in-state toxic releases, with just over one million toxic discharges into the river from Pennsylvania sites.
  • The Susquehanna River was among the top 50 in the nation for highest amount of total toxic discharges, with just over one million pounds of toxics discharged into the river in 2010.
  • Lake Erie ranked among the top 50 waterways for cancer-causing chemicals (at 4,907 pounds discharged in 2010), and developmental toxicants (at 3,733 pounds discharged in 2010.)

“I learned to fish on the streams that feed the Schuylkill and Delaware and I learned to water ski in the Schuylkill where you feared falling meant touching that awful bottom or worse get a mouthful of dreadful water,” said Pete Goodman, a local fisherman in the Philadelphia area. “We have come a long way but the promise of clean water has not been realized nor is its value appreciated.”

PennEnvironment’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.

“The Delaware River, as it flows south towards the Bay, picks up one insult after another.  It goes from an exceptional Wild and Scenic River upstream to the fifth worst in the Nation. Pollution from huge toxic dischargers is allowed to continue because government continues to give out permits to pollute and poor regulations and enforcement allow things to spiral downward.  These pollutants compound one upon the other in the estuary and Bay, harming communities, fish and aquatic life and degrading water quality and coastal resources.  This is unacceptable,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

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

In order to curb the toxic pollution threatening Pennsylvania’s landmark waterways, PennEnvironment 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 49,123 miles of streams in Pennsylvania and eight million Pennsylvanians’ 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 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 Pennsylvania’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 Staaf.