Industrial facilities dumped 12,727 pounds of toxic chemicals into Massachusetts’ waterways, according to a report released today by Environment Massachusetts, Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act. The report also finds that toxic chemicals were discharged in 1,900 waterways across all 50 states.
“While nearly half of the rivers and lakes in the U.S. are considered too polluted for safe fishing or swimming, our report shows that polluters continue to use our waterways as dumping grounds for their toxic chemicals,” said Eleanor Fort, Preservation Associate with Environment Massachusetts.
The Environment Massachusetts report documents and analyzes the dangerous levels of pollutants discharged in to America’s waters by compiling toxic chemical releases reported to the U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2007, the most recent data available.
Major findings of the report include:
• The General Electric Aviation facility released 1,000 pounds of toxic chemical waste into the Saugus River in Lynn, Massachusetts in 2007. The Saugus River is ranked 3rd in the state for most toxic chemicals discharged in 2007.
• Industrial facilities discharged approximately 4,380 pounds of chemicals linked to cancer into Massachusetts’ waterways in 2007.
• Nationally, 232 million pounds of toxic chemicals were released to American waterways during 2007 by industrial facilities.
In Saugus, MA the point of discharge sits next to the Rumney Marsh Reservation, a 600+ acre saltmarsh that has been designated an “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” according to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation . The marsh provides habitat to wildlife and offers recreational opportunities for boaters and fisherman. With facilities dumping so much pollution, no one should be surprised that nearly half of our waterways are unsafe for swimming and fishing. But we should be outraged.
Environment Massachusetts’ report summarizes the discharge 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 lead, mercury, and dioxin. When dumped into waterways, these toxic chemicals contaminate drinking water and are absorbed by the fish that people eventually eat. Exposure to these chemicals is linked to cancer, developmental disorders, and reproductive disorders. In 2007, manufacturing facilities discharged approximately 1.5 million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals into American waters.
“There are common-sense steps that should be taken to turn the tide against toxic pollution of our lakes, rivers and streams,” added Becky Smith, Water Organizer with Clean Water Action. “On this 37th birthday of the Clean Water Act, it is urgent that our members of Congress take up and pass the Clean Water Restoration Act, which will clarify that the intent of the Clean Water Act is to protect all of America’s waters.”
In order to curb the toxic pollution threatening our waterways, Environment Massachusetts recommends the following:
1. Pollution Prevention: Industrial facilities should reduce their toxic discharges in to waterways by switching from hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives.
2. 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.
3. Protect all waters: The federal government should adopt policies to clarify that the Clean Water Act applies to all of our waterways. This includes the thousands of headwaters and small streams for which jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act has been called into question, as a result of recent court decisions.
"We urge Congress and the President to listen to the public’s demands for clean water,” added Fort. “We need clean water now, and we need the federal government to act to protect our health and our environment.”
Environment Massachusetts is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization that works to protect clean air, clean water, and open spaces.