Rhode Island waterways receive top rank with least toxic dumping of any state

Media Contacts
John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

To retain progress, EPA can close Clean Water Act loopholes

Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center

Providence–– Rhode Island ranks best nationwide with the least amount of toxic industrial pollution dumped into the state’s waterways, according to a new report by Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center. Industrial facilities dumped just over 600 pounds of toxic chemicals into Rhode Island’s waterways in 2012, compared to nearly 18 million pounds in the worst-ranking state, Indiana. 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 Rhode Island and across the nation.

“Rhode Island’s waterways should be clean – for swimming, drinking, and supporting wildlife,” said Channing Jones, campaign director with Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center. “We can thank the Clean Water Act for much of the progress we’ve seen in Rhode Island. To keep our waters from again becoming a dumping ground for polluters, we must restore federal Clean Water Act protections that have been rolled back in recent years.”

“The good news about reducing toxic discharges demonstrates the great strides that have been made through public and private actions to keep toxics out of our environment, including our waters,” said Janet Coit, director of Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management. 

The Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center 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. The 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 Rhode Island include arsenic, which causes cancer, and developmental toxins, such as benzene, which can affect the way children grow, learn, and behave.

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 Rhode Island Research & Policy Center is highlighting one part of the solution that could actually become law this year: restoring Clean Water Act protections to all waterways.

As a result of court cases brought by polluters, over 50% of streams in Rhode Island along with our state’s main drinking water sources are now at risk of having no protection from pollution under the federal Clean Water Act. This spring, the EPA finally proposed a rule to close the loopholes that have left waterways at risk by restoring the Clean Water Act.

“We need to keep in place protections that recognize the interconnectedness of our surface water, groundwater, and wetland resources,” added Director Coit. “In that regard, DEM is pleased that EPA’s recently proposed clarifications on defining the ‘waters of the U.S.’ jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act will help to do just that, strengthening protections under that important federal statute.”

“With so much of Rhode Island’s population and economy relying on the quality of our water, we cannot afford delay or inaction,” added Jamie Rhodes, Rhode Island director for Clean Water Action. “It is time that our nation’s water quality rules reflect the interconnectedness of our streams with our drinking water supplies and health of the Narragansett Bay.”

However, the clean water rule is being vigorously opposed by a wide range of polluting industries, such as drilling companies and industrial agriculture.

The public comment period on the clean water rule began the day before Earth Day, and it is currently still open.