14.6 Million Pounds of Toxic Chemicals Dumped into Texas’ Waterways

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Environment Texas Research & Policy Center

AUSTIN – Industrial facilities dumped 14.6 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Texas’ waterways, making Texas’ waterways the fourth worst in the nation according to a new report released today by Environment Texas. Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act also reports that the Houston Ship Channel, the Brazos River, Cottonwood Branch stream, Corpus Christi Inner Harbor and Tankersley Creek received the highest toxic discharges in Texas.

“Texas’ waterways are a polluter’s paradise right now. Polluters dump 14.6 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Texas’ lakes, rivers and streams every year,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “We must turn the tide of toxic pollution by restoring Clean Water Act protections to our waterways.”

The Environment Texas 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 Houston Ship Channel is ranked 1st in the state for highest amount of total toxic discharges, with 2.7 million pounds discharged in 2010.
  • The Brazos River ranked 8th in the nation for discharges of cancer-causing chemicals and 4th in the nation for discharges of reproductive toxicants.
  • Sanderson Farms Inc. was the biggest polluter in Texas, dumping 1.5 million pounds of toxic pollution into our waterways.
  • The Colorado River received 2693 pounds of toxic chemicals, including 427 pounds of chemicals known to cause cancer. 
  • The Guadalupe River received 42,501 pounds of toxics chemicals, 16th worst in the state.

Environment Texas’ 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.

“Clean Water is the foundation for healthy communities and for a healthy environment,” said David Foster, State Program Director for Clean Water Action. “This report underlines the imperative need for the EPA to follow through and issue its new guidance so that all waters of the US are protected under the federal Clean Water Act. That was the original intent of the Act. We have learned that we cannot count on states to do the job, least of all Texas, whose leadership challenges federal authority to protect public health and the environment at every turn.”

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

In order to curb the toxic pollution threatening Texas’ waters, Environment Texas 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 143,000 miles of streams in Texas and 11.5 million Texans’ 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 Texas’ 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 Metzger.