11.8 Million Pounds of Toxic Chemicals Dumped into Virginia’s Waterways

Media Contacts
Sarah Bucci

Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center

RICHMOND, VA – Industrial facilities dumped 11,821,961 pounds of toxic chemicals into Virginia’s waterways in 2012 making Virginia’s waterways the 5th worst in the nation, according to a new report by the Environment Virginia 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 Virginia and across the nation.

“Virginia’s waterways should be clean – for swimming, drinking, and supporting wildlife,” said Sarah Bucci, Campaign Director with Environment Virginia 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 James River is the cornerstone to the economic, social and environmental fabric of the region, both now and during centuries past,” said Dr. Leonard Smock, Director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Rice Center for Environmental Life Sciences. “We have come a long way from the time when the river was an open dumping ground for pollutants, but there still is much work to be done. We should insist that the James, and all waterways in the Commonwealth and throughout the nation, have the highest possible quality.”  

This report 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 Lower James River Waterway is ranked 9th in the Top 50 Local Watersheds for Releases of Developmental Toxins with 7,660 lbs. being dumped in 2012. [SEE TABLE A-5]
  • Virginia was ranked 7th in number of pounds of developmental toxins being released into the state’s waterways in 2012. [SEE TABLE A-2]
  • The US Army Radford Army Ammunition Plant was the biggest polluter in Virginia, dumping 7,338,155 pounds of toxic chemicals into the Upper New River Waterway. [SEE TABLE B-3] In terms of the Top 50 Facilities by Releases of All Toxic Chemicals, Pounds Released in 2012, the same facility was ranked 2nd nationwide. [SEE TABLE B-1]

Environment Virginia 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 Virginia include ethylbenzene, which causes cancer, and developmental toxins, such as Trichloroethylene and Arsenic, which can affect the way children grow, learn, and behave.

“For people who make their living on the James River, like myself, the need for clean water is essential to continue our trades.  Developing and producing recreational and educational programs for the public can only continue with the promise of clean water in the future,” said Captain Mike Ostrander of Discover the James eco-tours. “To name a few, this includes guiding anglers, harvesting local fish, ecology education for kids, viewing wildlife and simply enjoying the scenery of Virginia’s great waterways.”

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 Virginia 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 Virginia’s waters.

As a result of court cases brought by polluters, 28,000 miles of streams in Virginia and over 2 million Virginians’ drinking water are now at risk of having no protection from pollution under the federal Clean Water Act. Following years of advocacy by Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center and its allies, this spring, the EPA finally proposed a rule to close the loopholes that have left Virginia’s waterways and risk and restore Clean Water Act protections.

“Five or more days a week, from March to mid-November, the youth rowers of River City Crew venture out of Robious Landing Park in singles, doubles, 4 person and eight person shells. We share our spot on the James with kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, swimmers and motorboats. During our time on the water we see geese and foam tufts, bald eagles and floating debris, blue herons and mud,” said Tom O’Rourke, Executive Director of Richmond’s River City Crew, a non-profit interscholastic youth rowing community organization.

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

“The James River is a treasure for Virginia and the Richmond area. While it may never again be the pristine river of this country’s youth, it is a shame to not work to bring it as close as we can,” continued O’Rourke.



Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting Virginia’s air, water and open spaces.


To view an online interactive version of the report visit www.bit.ly/WastingWaterways