Virginia Second-Worst State for Toxic Chemicals Dumped into its Waterways

Environment Virginia

Industrial facilities dumped over 18 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Virginia’s waterways, the second-most in the nation, according to a new report released today by Environment Virginia. 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. 

“Virginia’s waterways are a polluter’s paradise right now. Polluters dump 18 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Virginia’s lakes, rivers and streams every year,” said Laura Anderson, field organizer with Environment Virginia. “We must turn the tide of toxic pollution by restoring Clean Water Act protections to our waterways.” 

The New River saw the most toxic pollution in the state, with over 12 million pounds dumped into its waters. More than 1.1 million pounds were discharged into the James River, and over 370,000 pounds were dumped into the Shenandoah River. 

“The James river is vital to the history and culture of Richmond and Virginia,” said Caroline Kory, state associate with Environment Virginia. “We shouldn’t be tarnishing our legacy with toxic pollution.” 

“The Shenandoah River serves to remind us what happens when industrial sites are allowed to pollute,” said Jeff Kelble, Shenandoah Riverkeeper. “Before we had the Clean Water Act in 1972, industries contaminated the river with mercury, PCB and other toxic chemicals. People are still unable to eat fish on over 100 miles of the Shenandoah because these toxic chemicals don’t break down or go away.” 

The Environment Virginia 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:  

• Virginia’s Upper Roanoke watershed is ranked second-worst in the nation for highest amount of total toxic discharges, with over 12 million pounds discharged in 2010. 

• Richmond’s James River saw over 1.1 million pounds of toxic pollution in 2010. 

• 377,090 pounds of toxic pollution were dumped into the Shenandoah River in 2010. Virginia polluters alone dumped 203,480 pounds into the Potomac River, and other states dumped additional toxic pollution for a total of 402,261 pounds into the Potomac in 2010. 

Environment Virginia’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. 

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

In order to curb the toxic pollution threatening Virginia’s waters, Environment Virginia recommends the following: 

• Pollution Prevention: Industrial facilities should reduce their toxic discharges to waterways by switching from hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives. 

• 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 33,778 miles of streams in Virginia and 2.3 million Virginians’ 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. 

• 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 Virginia’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 Anderson. 




Environment Virginia is a state-wide, citizen-funded environmental group working for clean air, clean water and open space. For more information, please visit