YEARS AFTER THE CLEAN WATER ACT, WE STILL HAVE A WATER QUALITY
the late 1960s, it became increasingly evident that the U.S. was
quality crisis a report by the Council on Environmental Quality
that only 10% of American waters could be considered unpolluted
moderately polluted. When the Cuyahoga River literally caught on
of the chemical content, it became clear that action had to be
passed the Clean Water Act, establishing the clear goal of
fishable and swimmable by 1983 and eliminating all discharge
into waterways by 1985.
goals have clearly not been met:
40% of our rivers, lakes, and estuaries are still too polluted for
Since 1988, there have been nearly 30,000 beach closings.
47 states issued fish consumption advisories in 1998, urging limited
of fish from their waters due to contamination caused by
chlordane, dioxins, and DDT and its byproducts, which persist in
environment. The 1999 PIRG Report "Fishing for Trouble" reported that
issuing advisories for mercury alone, and 10 states have advisories
body of water within their borders.
report asks why we have fallen so far short of the Clean Water
examines the simple answer: polluters continue to use our waterways
grounds. We examine two major reasons this is allowed to go on.
we examine water pollution as reported to the Toxics Release
for 1997. We summarize and discuss the specific rivers and
the largest amounts of toxic pollution, the states where the
occurs, and the facilities and companies responsible for the
Most of this pollution is legal. Under the Clean Water Act,
Protection Agency (EPA) issues permits to all public and
intending to discharge pollutants into surface waterways.
of the Clean Water Act is ZERO DISCHARGE, the intention was that
gradually be tightened until the permit was for zero pollution.
of millions of pounds of water pollution reported by
that the government is not using the permit system as it
but rather as a way of licensing pollution.
we examine how EPA has failed even to enforce the too-lax
We look at EPA's compliance database and summarize the
in significant non-compliance with their permits, discharging
which far exceed designated limits. We list states with the
of facilities in "significant non-compliance," as well as
highest percentage of facilities in "significant non-compliance."
state will get, in addition to the report, a 2-page fact sheet
toxic releases to water bodies in the state, including top 5 water
and chemicals for both overall pollution and the specific
(carcinogens, reproductive toxins, persistent toxic metals).
TO CLEAN UP OUR WATER
then examine exactly why the Clean Water Act has failed to clean up
and why the Community Right-to-Know Act (which created the
Inventory) has gone far enough to promote pollution prevention.
Most importantly, we recommend exactly how to strengthen key environmental
and programs in order to make sure our waterways are not America's dumping
1) Strengthen the Clean Water Act and its enforcement:
A. Set mandatory minimum penalties for polluting
B. Make sure that the penalties for polluting outweigh the economic
gained by violating permits (currently, most companies save more money by violating their permit than they have to pay in
C. Strengthen citizens' right to enforce the Clean Water Act by suing
2) Strengthen the Community's Right to Know
A. Require all facilities that release toxics to report their releases
B. Require facilities to report their use of toxic chemicals, not just
waste, in order to promote pollution prevention.
C. Increase public access to EPA's database of facilities that are in
with their permits.
WITH THE SEXIEST STORIES
are basically two facets of this reports story in any state: 1)
amount of toxic pollution entering the state's waterways, and 2) the number of facilities violating their permits. For each of these stories, there are a number of ways to package the data.
For the non-compliance data, you can use
the number (list 1) or the percentage (2) of facilities in
during one of the five quarters analyzed in the report.
will also have a high number of facilities in significant
all of the five quarters examined (3). In terms of the amount of
waterways, there are several ways to tell the story. The most
of this data is its packaging by waterway, so you may have a
is among the most polluted (4 and 5). In addition, we have state
overall toxic releases (6) to water, as well as for several of the
types of pollution entering waterways (carcinogens,
and persistent toxic metals) (7). Each of these rankings is
below. Looking at these charts should give you the couple of basic
to pitch the story to reports and/or coalition partners.
Number of facilities in significant non-compliance for 1 of the 5
IN SNC STATE
Percent of facilities in significant non-compliance in 1 of the 5
IN SNC STATE
of facilities in significant non-compliance for all 5 of the
(4) MOST POLLUTED RIVERS
your state is not on a top-polluter list, but is on or contains one
rivers, you probably still have a good story]
Brazos River (TX)
Alafia River (FL)
Houston Ship Channel (TX)
Cape Fear River (NC)
Savannah River (GA, SC)
Rock River (IL)
Schuylkill River (PA)
an unnamed canal in TX
Willamette River (OR)
Hudson River (NJ, NY)
Kanawha River (WV)
(6)STATES WITH THE MOST REPORTED WATER POLLUTION:
of these also rank high for specific types of pollution, like
reproductive toxins, or persistent toxics)
STATES THAT ARE AT THE TOP FOR A SPECIFIC TYPE OF POLLUTION, BUT NOT FOR OVERALL POLLUTION
SC (#4 for carcinogens, #5 for persistent toxic metals, #13 for
AL (#1 for persistent toxic metals, #10 for carcinogens)
SD (#1 for reproductive toxins & a 27,000-fold increase from
DE (#3 for carcinogens)
ME (#7 for persistent toxic metals)
MN (#9 for carcinogens)
TN (#9 for reproductive toxins, #14 for carcinogens)
MD (#11 for persistent toxic metals)