Industrial facilities dumped over 700,000 pounds of toxic chemicals into Colorado’s waterways, more than a third of which went into the South Platte, according to a new report released today by Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center. 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.
“From the mighty Arkansas river to our smaller streams, Colorado’s waterways are a haven of beauty. However, right now they are also a safe-haven for polluters— where polluters dump over 700,000 pounds of toxic chemicals in 2010 alone,” said Bessie Schwarz, Field Organizer with Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center. “We must turn the tide of toxic pollution by restoring Clean Water Act protections to our waterways.”
“Our business has been serving outdoor enthusiast for over 30 years and we are dependent on clean, flowing water,” said owner of Anglers Covey, David Leinweber. “More than 600,000 people buy Colorado fishing licenses every year and take advantage of the incredible resources we have in this great state. Water quality is paramount to sustaining this resource.”
The Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center report documents and analyzes the dangerous levels of pollutants discharged into America’s waters by compiling toxic chemical releases reported to the U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2010 (the most recent data available). Cargill Inc. was the biggest polluter in Colorado, dumping over 235,000 of the nearly 250,000 pounds of toxic pollution discharged into The South Platt alone.
Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center’s report summarizes discharges 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 arsenic, mercury, and benzene. Exposure to these chemicals is linked to cancer, developmental disorders, and reproductive disorders.
This pollution affects foundation industries in Colorado with our agriculture and recreation being potential hit the hardest.
“Those in Colorado agriculture know that very few crops can be raised without water for we live in a High Plains Desert,” said Berry Patch Farms owners, Tim and Claudia Ferrell. “Our farm, located in Brighton, depends on water from the South Platte to irrigate from March through October. We all must take whatever steps necessary to protect this invaluable gift.”
Almost 70% of Colorado’s waters and 75,000 miles of our rivers and stream may be un-protected by The Clean Water Act.
“There are common-sense steps that we can take to turn the tide against toxic pollution of our waters,” added Schwarz.
In order to curb the toxic pollution threatening Colorado’s rivers, Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center recommends the following:
1. Pollution Prevention: Industrial facilities should reduce their toxic discharges to waterways by switching from hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives.
2. Protect all waters: The Obama administration should finalize guidelines and conduct a rulemaking to clarify that the Clean Water Act applies to all of our waterways – including the nearly 75,000 miles of streams in Colorado and 3.7 million Coloradans’ drinking water for which jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act has been called into question as a result of two polluter-driven Supreme Court decisions in the last decade.
3. 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.
“The bottom line is that Coloradan’s waterways shouldn’t be a polluter’s paradise, they should just be paradise. We need clean water now, and we are counting on the federal government to act to protect our health and our environment,” concluded Schwarz.