The Ohio River provides drinking water for 3 million people. In 2010, the Ohio river was also the dump site for 32 million pounds of toxic chemicals, according to a new report based on the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). As we reported in our last article regarding aging sewer systems polluting our beautiful beaches, human pollution is affecting our waterways in much the same way and many times in a worse manner.
In all, industrial polluters dumped 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals into U.S. waterways in 2010. Polluters in just the top 5 states Indiana, Virginia, Nebraska, Texas and Georgia were responsible for 40% of all toxins released into U.S. waterways, according to the non-profit advocacy organizations Environment America and Frontier Group which analyzed the data.
Toxic Water Pollution By River Watershed
Polluters have been self-reporting toxin releases since 1987, but 2010 is the first year for which EPA classified releases by watershed.
|Top 10 Waterways for Total Toxic Discharges, 2010|
|Rank||Waterway||Toxic discharges (lb.)|
|1||Ohio River (IL, IN, KY, OH, PA, WV)||32,111,718|
|2||Mississippi River (AR, IA, IL, KY, LA, MN, MO, MS, TN, WI)||12,739,749|
|3||New River (NC, VA)||12,529,948|
|4||Savannah River (GA, SC)||9,624,090|
|5||Delaware River (DE, NJ, PA)||6,719,436|
|6||Muskingum River (OH)||5,754,118|
|7||Missouri River (IA, KS, MO, ND, NE)||4,887,971|
|8||Shonka Ditch (NE)||4,614,722|
|9||Tricounty Canal (NE)||3,386,162|
|10||Rock River (IL, WI)||3,370,392|
source: Wasting Our Waterways
Top polluters across the country included food and beverage manufacturing, heavy metals manufacturing, chemical plants, and petroleum refineries. One company, AK Steel, released 30 million pounds of toxins into waterways in Indiana and Ohio.
Toxic River Pollution to Drinking Water Contamination
These toxins persist in the environment and, because most larger U.S. towns and cities draw drinking water from rivers and lakes, they can be piped right into our homes. The New York Times reported in 2009 that the tap water of 1 in 10 Americans either contained dangerous chemicals or failed drinking water health standards. This is just another reason why we believe owning a home water filter like the berkey water filter is critical to protecting one's health.
Lax Clean Water Act Enforcement Leads To Polluter Playground
Environment America and Frontier Group did not estimate how much of the total toxins released represent illegal pollution or exceedences of Clean Water Act permits. According to the groups, lax enforcement is a major reason that 40 years after the Clean Water Act became law, America's waterways remain a "polluter's paradise." The report explains:
"States (who are primarily responsible for enforcing the law in most of the country) have often been unwilling to tighten pollution limits on industrial dischargers and have often let illegal polluters get away with exceeding their permitted pollution levels without penalty or with only a slap on the wrist.
The Clean Water Act intended pollution discharge permits to be gradually tightened to force innovation toward safer industries and progress toward universally drinkable and swimable waterways. Not only is this not happening, as of 2009 almost 1 in 5 discharge permits for major industrial facilities was expired.
"The Clean Water Act's original objective was to clean up all of America's waterways by 1985, 27 years ago," said Rob Kerth, analyst for Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "Many people born in 1985 have kids of their own now, yet still millions of pounds of toxic chemicals are being dumped into our waterways."
We covered this a couple of years ago in response to a new york times piece on the failure of the Clean Water Act, and it's sad to say not much has changed and doesn't look to be anytime soon.