Environment News Service, March 24, 2006
Title: “Factories, Cities Across USA Exceed Water Pollution Limits”
Author: Sunny Lewis
AlterNet, August 4, 2006
Title: “Military Waste in Our Drinking Water”
Authors: Sunaura Taylor and Astor Taylor
Student Researchers: Jonathan Stoumen, Adrienne Magee, and Julie Bickel
Faculty Evaluator: Sasha Von Meier, Ph.D. and Steve Norwick, Ph.D.
Water is essential to life, contributing to blood circulation, digestion, metabolism, brain activity, and muscle movements. Yet reliably pure water is growing scarce, even in the United States. Despite the federal government’s avowed commitment “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,”1 corporations, municipalities, and the US military pollute our waters—often with little or no accountability.
“Polluters are using America’s waters as their dumping ground,” said US PIRG’s Clean Water Advocate Christy Leavitt. (US PIRG is the national lobby office for the state Public Interest Research Groups, nonprofit public interest advocacy organizations.) “Troubled Waters: An Analysis of Clean Water Act Compliance,” released by US PIRG in March 2006 shows that, between July 2003 and December 2004, over 62 percent of industrial and municipal facilities across the country discharged pollution into US waterways at rates above limits established by the Clear Water Act (CWA).
Using the Freedom of Information Act, US PIRG investigated major facilities’ compliance—or lack of it—with established federal limits on pollution discharges. The average facility discharged pollutants in excess of its permitted limit by over 275 percent, nearly four times the legal limit. Nationally, 436 major facilities exceeded their limits at least half of the time during the study’s timeframe. Thirty-five facilities exceeded their permits during every reporting period. Seven states allowed more than one hundred violations of at least 500 percent (Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee, Texas, and Massachusetts). The study could not analyze facilities in California, Oregon, or Washington due to unreliable data.
Corn farming—think ethanol—is the crop most likely to leach chemical contaminants into waterways.2 Atrazine, which several European nations have banned, is an herbicide widely used in agribusiness, especially on major crops such as corn. The EPA identifies atrazine as the second-most common herbicide in drinking wells. Maximum safe levels of atrazine in drinking water are three parts per billion, but scientists have found up to 224 parts per billion in Midwestern streams, and 2,300 parts per billion in Corn Belt irrigation reservoirs.
Today more than 40 percent of US waterways are unsafe for swimming and fishing, and, as shown by the PIRG study, industrial pollution of the nation’s waters persists—despite the goals of the 1972 Clean Water Act to make all US waters safe for fishing, swimming, and other uses by 1983, and to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into waterways by 1985.
One reason for these ongoing failures is the Bush administration’s consistent efforts to shortchange the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and to gut the Clean Water Act. In 2003, the Bush administration significantly weakened protections for small streams, wetlands, and other waters, despite Bush having declared 2002-2003 the Year of Clean Water.
However, opposition to environmental protection for clean waterways stems from not only the Bush administration but also the US military, whose pollution poisons the very citizens it is supposed to protect in the name of national security. Weapons production, by the US military and its private contractors, generates more hazardous waste annually than the five largest international chemical companies combined, accounting for one-third of the nation’s toxic waste. Furthermore, the US military is among the most frequent violators of environmental laws.
The Department of Defense (DoD) has sought and received exemptions from a number of crucial public health and environmental laws. Dramatic increases in the amounts of trichloroethylene (TCE) in public aquifers have been one fatal consequence of these exemptions. TCE, a known carcinogen, is used commercially as a solvent. It is the most widespread industrial contaminant in US drinking water. Since the Korean War, military contractors, such as Hughes Missiles Systems (purchased by Raytheon in 1997), have used TCE to degrease airplane parts, and to clean fuel lines at missile sites.
Consequently, TCE contamination is especially common around military facilities. The Pentagon is responsible for the TCE contamination of over 1,400 properties. In 2001, the EPA sought to force the government to require more thorough cleanups at military sites, by lowering the acceptable limits on TCE from five parts per billion to one part per billion. In response, the DoD joined the Department of Energy and NASA in blocking the EPA’s proposed action. The Bush administration charged the EPA with inflating TCE’s risks, and called on the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the EPA’s claims. The Academy’s 2003 report confirmed the EPA’s assessment, linking TCE to kidney cancer, impaired neurological function, reproductive and developmental damage, autoimmune disease, and other human ailments. The Bush administration and the DoD have ignored these inconvenient findings. As a result, citizens, who pay for the military budget with their tax dollars, are also paying with their health and sometimes their lives.
1. Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 USC. 1251 et seq), Section 101(a).
2. Sasha Lilley, “Green Fuel’s Dirty Secret,” CorpWatch, June 1, 2006.
UPDATE BY SUNNY LEWIS
Compliance with the Clean Water Act on the part of industrial and municipal water facilities and land developers is of utmost importance to the quality of America’s waters—from wetlands, ponds, and small streams to mighty rivers and the Great Lakes.
The US Public Interest Research Group, US PIRG, which discovered the failure of 62 percent of facilities to comply with the law based on documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, intends to do more work on this subject later this year.
Christy Leavitt of US PIRG, quoted by ENS in the original article, says the group will issue another report based on updated figures obtained in May from the US Environmental Protection Agency.
As ENS reported, US PIRG recommended that all US waters be protected by withdrawal of what the group called “the Bush administration’s 2003 No Protection” policy which excludes many small streams and wetlands from protection under the Clean Water Act.
Since the ENS report was published, the US Supreme Court handed down a ruling on the scope of the Clean Water Act that many water and environmental experts as well as Members of Congress believe has muddied the legal waters and made new legislation necessary.
In June 2006, the high court ruled in the case Rapanos et ux., et at. v. United States that there are limits to the federal government’s authority to regulate wetlands under the Clean Water Act, but failed to agree on the confines of that power.
The consolidated case involved conflicts between developers who wanted to build condos and stores on wetlands and federal regulators, who refused to allow the developments under the authority of the Clean Water Act. The waters at issue were wetlands adjacent to ditches and drains that connected to “navigable waters” of the United States.
For a full discussion of the ruling, please see the ENS report, “US Supreme Court Decision Fails to Clarify Clean Water Act,” at http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/jun2006/2006-06-19-10.asp.
In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in another case, Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. Corps of Engineers, SWANCC, that non-navigable, isolated, intrastate waters do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
On May 25, 2007, a bi-partisan bill was introduced in the House of Representatives that attempts to clarify the original intent of Congress in the 1972 Clean Water Act in the wake of these two decisions.
To achieve clarification, the new measure, the Clean Water Restoration Act, replaces the term “navigable waters of the United States” with the term “waters of the United States.”
The Clean Water Restoration Act has 158 original cosponsors, and the endorsement of more than three hundred organizations representing the conservation community, family farmers, fishers, surfers, boaters, faith communities, environmental justice advocates, labor unions, and civic associations.
It replaces a bill mentioned in the original ENS report, the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act, that was not approved during the 109th Congress.
As ENS reported in March 2006, US PIRG recommended that the Clean Water State Revolving Fund be fully funded to help communities upgrade their sewer systems.
The Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund guarantees loans for cities and towns so they can borrow for sewer projects at a lower interest rate, saving local taxpayers billions of dollars nationwide.
On March 8, 2007, ENS reported that the Bush administration’s budget proposal to cut some $400 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund budget came under fire by members of both parties in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
On March 9, 2007, ENS reported that the US House of Representatives passed the Water Quality Financing Act of 2007. For the first time in twenty years, the measure H.R. 720, would reauthorize the Clean Water State Revolving Funds. At press time, this measure had not come before the US Senate.
For its part, the US EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, OECA, says its actions to enforce Clean Water Act requirements in FY 2006 resulted in more than 283 million pounds of pollutants reduced.
Most of these reductions are the result of the EPA’s “national priority efforts” to control overflows from combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows and contamination caused by surface runoff from stormwater and concentrated animal feeding operations, the agency said.
Working in partnership with states, OECA says it concluded major legal settlements with dozens of cities to bring critical sewer systems back into compliance.
The settlements require comprehensive plans to improve the maintenance and operation of systems to reduce overflows, and long-term capital construction projects to expand treatment capacity to ensure that sewage is properly treated before being discharged, the OECA said in the “EPA Fiscal Year 2006 Accomplishments Report.”
The settlements concluded in FY 2006 will reduce overflows of untreated or inadequately treated sewage by 26 million pounds, with an estimated investment of $930 million in sewer system upgrades and improvements.
To find out more about the scope of the Clean Water Act and compliance with this law, visit:
US Public Interest Research Group: http://www.uspirg.org/
US EPA Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/
US EPA Clean Water Act Compliance Assistance:
Clean Water Act State Revolving Fund:
Stormwater Authority: http://www.stormwaterauthority.org