More than 1 in 4 of US’ largest facilities seriously violating Clean Water Act

Nearly 30% of the US' largest industrial, municipal and federal facilities were in serious violation of the Clean Water Act at least once during a recent 15-month period, according to a US Public Interest Research Groups (US PIRG) report.

The report, Poisoning Our Water: How the Government Permits Pollution, also claims that nearly 122,000 tonnes of toxic pollution were released into US waters in 1997. “While 40% of US’ waterways are considered too polluted for safe fishing or swimming, the report shows that the government is letting polluters continue to use our waterways as dumping grounds for toxic chemicals,” said Jeremiah Baumann, Environmental Advocate with US PIRG. “Despite the clear intentions of the Clean Water Act to eliminate the pollution of our waters, polluters continue to brazenly violate the law.”

Major findings of the report include:

  • 29.4% (1,958 out of 6,670) of major facilities were in significant non-compliance during the period examined
  • nearly 122,000 tonnes of toxic chemicals were released to American waterways during 1997, either directly or through water treatment facilities
  • the bodies of water receiving the greatest amounts of toxic chemicals in 1997 were the Mississippi River, the Connequenessing Creek (PA), the Brazos River (TX), the Alafia River (FL), and the Houston Ship Channel (TX)
  • the states with the greatest levels of toxic pollution were Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, Mississippi, Ohio, Florida, and New Jersey
  • the parent corporations which contributed the greatest amount of toxic pollution to waterways were Armco Inc, PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer LP, BASF Corporation, E. I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co, and Vicksburg Chemical Co
  • the ten states with the greatest number of major facilities violating permits were Texas, Florida, Ohio, New York, Alabama, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina
  • the 10 states with the highest percentage of major facilities in significant non-compliance (SNC) with clean water permits SNC were Utah, Florida, Rhode Island, Ohio, Alabama, Tennessee, Connecticut, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Indiana

The summary of toxic chemical releases includes more than 600 chemicals identified by EPA as being hazardous to human health or the environment. In particular, the report summarises discharges of carcinogenic chemicals, chemicals that persist in the environment and chemicals with the potential to cause reproductive problems ranging from birth defects to reduced fertility. Polluters discharged nearly 4,994 tonnes of these compounds into US waters in 1997.

In order to increase compliance with permits and move toward the zero-discharge goals of the Clean Water Act, US PIRG recommends:

  • mandatory minimum penalties for facilities that violate their permits – the amount of the penalty should be set to prevent polluters from profiting by breaking the law
  • obstacles to citizen suits should be removed, including allowing citizens to sue federal facilities
  • Congress should expand the Toxics Release Inventory to require all polluting facilities to report their pollution, and to include information on the use of toxic chemicals rather than on solely ‘end-of-the-pipe’ releases

The US PIRG report compiled toxic chemical releases reported to the Toxics Release Inventory for 1997, the most recent data available. US PIRG looked at the behaviour of US water polluters by documenting violations of the Clean Water Act between October of 1997 and December of 1998.

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