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

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PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center

Industrial facilities dumped 10,470,231 pounds of toxic chemicals into Pennsylvania’s waterways in 2012 making Pennsylvania the 7th worst in the nation for toxic releases, according to a new report by PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. 

The “Wasting Our Waterways” report comes as the Environmental Protection Agency considers a new rule to restore Clean Water Act protections to thousands of waterways in Pennsylvania and across the nation.

“Pennsylvania’s waterways should be clean – for swimming, drinking, and supporting wildlife,” said Adam Garber, Field Director with PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center.  “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.”
The report on toxic pollutants discharged to 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: 

  • The Upper Susquehanna ranked 29th in the nation for total toxic releases into a waterway, with 1,913,464 pounds. 
  • In the Schuylkill River Watershed region, polluters dumped 2,364,274pounds of toxic chemicals into our waterways, making this watershed the 17th most polluted in the nation. 
  • 10,148 pounds of developmental toxins were released into The Upper Ohio River in 2012, ranking the river 6th in the nation. 
  • USS-Clairton Works Iron and Steel Mill was the biggest polluter in Pennsylvania, dumping 2,213,136 pounds of toxic pollution into the Lower Monongahela River, ranking 17th in the nation.  

PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center’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 infertility. The toxic chemicals dumped in Pennsylvania include Chromium, which causes cancer, and developmental toxins, such as Lead, which can affect the way children grow, learn, and behave.

“The report they are issuing today is a needed step in refocusing Pennsylvania on the importance of the quality of water throughout our Commonwealth,” said Rep. Stephen McCarter (D-Montgomery),

“We would hope the state would continue to honor the tradition of clean water whenever and wherever our streams are threatened.” 
The report recommends several steps to curb this tide of toxic pollution – including requiring industry to switch from toxic chemicals to safer alternatives.  But PennEnvironment 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 Pennsylvania’s waters.
As a result of court cases brought by polluters, 59% of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania and 8 million Pennsylvanians’ drinking water are now at risk of having no protection from pollution under the federal Clean Water Act. Following years of advocacy by PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center and its allies, this spring, the EPA finally proposed a rule to close the loopholes that have left Pennsylvania’s waterways and risk and restore Clean Water Act protections. 
“Clean water is an undeniable necessity for the health of our families, our environment, and our economy– not to mention our enjoyment,” said Joanne Kilgour, director of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club.  “The Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers now have the opportunity to finalize a clean water rule that is protective of all streams and wetlands, restoring protections to almost all of the nation’s fresh waters and ensuring safe drinking water for 117 million Americans. We urge them to take swift action for clean water.”
The public comment period on the clean water rule began the day before Earth Day, and it is still open right now. And to begin to get a grip on the toxic threats posed by fracking in our state, we also need to require drilling operators to tell the public about their toxic releases – just as the polluters highlighted in our report are now required to do.   We have joined a petition urging the EPA to do just that.
“Pennsylvania’s waterways shouldn’t be a polluter’s dumping ground,” said Garber.  “If we want the watersheds of the commonwealth to be clean for future generations of Pennsylvanians, we must restore Clean Water Act protections to all of our waterways, and we must do it now.”

staff | TPIN

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