Industrial facilities dumped more than 10 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Pennsylvania's waterways, making the state's waterways the seventh worst in the nation, according to a new report released today by PennEnvironment.
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.
While these discharges are legal, Clean Water Advocate for PennEnvironment Erika Staaf feels something needs to be done about the damage being done to the water.
"Pennsylvania's waterways are a polluter's paradise right now," said Staaf.
Among the toxic chemicals released by Pennsylvania facilities are arsenic, mercury, and benzene. Exposure to these chemicals is linked to cancer, developmental disorders, and reproductive disorders.
The report also found the Ohio River, which runs through six states, ranked 1st in the nation for highest amount of total toxic discharges, with 32 million pounds of toxic chemicals discharged in 2010. In addition, 2.6 million pounds of toxic material were discharged in the Monongahela River, making it the 17th most polluted river in the nation.
According to PennEnvironment, U.S. Steel – Clairton Works was the biggest polluter in Pennsylvania, dumping 2.4 million pounds of toxic pollution into the Monongahela River and Peters Creek.
The report listed three steps to curb water pollution:
- Industrial facilities should reduce their toxic discharges to waterways by switching from hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives.
- The Obama Administration should finalize guidelines to clarify that the Clean Water Act applies to all waterways - including the 49,123 miles of streams in Pennsylvania
- 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 warnings.
While Staaf admits there are no safer alternatives for some chemicals, she believes companies will clean up their act if environmental laws become tougher.
"If it's easier and cheaper to continue to discharge waste into the waterways, of course companies are going to do it, especially if they're in line with the law," said Staaf. "But as the laws get stricter, as penalties and enforcement takes place, then companies will be less likely to pollute our waterways, especially if they're breaking the law."
But Staaf feels punishing companies shouldn't be the point.
"The bottom line is that Pennsylvania's waterways shouldn't be a polluter's paradise, they should just be paradise," said Staaf. "We need clean water now, and we are counting on the federal government to act to protect our health and our environment."