Report: Nearly 200 million pounds of toxic chemicals dumped into U.S. waterways in 2020

WASHINGTON — A new watchdog report is revealing that millions of pounds of toxic chemicals, including some that can cause cancer and other serious health issues, were dumped into U.S. waterways in 2020.

The report by Environment America Research and Policy Center, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund, and Frontier Group, found nearly 200 million pounds of toxic chemicals were poured into lakes, rivers and streams.

“Industrial facilities released at least 193.6 million pounds of toxic substances into U.S. waterways in 2020, including chemicals known to cause cancer, reproductive problems and developmental issues in children,” the report said. “These high volumes stand in stark contrast to the Clean Water Act’s stated objective of eliminating direct discharges of pollution by 1985.”

The report said that “more cancer-causing chemicals were released into the waters of South Carolina, Texas and Alabama than any other states in 2020.”

“Chemicals that are linked to cancer are going right into our rivers, lakes and streams in the 21st century,” said John Rumpler, Clean Water Program Director for Environment America Research and Policy Center. “This is just not acceptable. We can do better.”

According to the report, Texas, Indiana and Virginia ranked highest in the nation for toxic chemical discharges to water by weight in 2020.

The report is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and lawmakers to update pollution control standards and for industrial companies to reduce the use of toxic chemicals.

“We have the tools,” said Rumpler. “We know that Americans care deeply about clean water and now it’s time for action.”

“The EPA should move quickly to update pollution control standards in order to end or at least dramatically reduce toxic releases into our waterways,” the report said. “This includes standards for meat and poultry processing plants, power plants, and all industrial dischargers of PFAS chemicals.”

The findings come as the U.S. Supreme Court this week heard arguments in a case involving an Idaho couple who says they haven’t been able to build on their property because of government restrictions on wetlands.

The case could potentially limit federal regulations under the Clean Water Act.

“The court may actually weaken the Clean Water Act dramatically stripping away protections from thousands of wetlands and streams,” said Rumpler. “That is just the wrong direction.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the EPA told us: “EPA is currently engaged in active studies and rulemaking to update pollution control standards for meat and poultry processing plants, power plants, and all industrial dischargers of PFAS chemicals. In 2021, EPA announced new rulemakings to address discharges from both coal-fired power plants and facilities engaged in meat and poultry processing. Additionally, in EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap published in October 2021, the Agency announced a number of activities, including new studies and regulations, to better identify, measure, and ultimately control industrial discharges of PFAS, including new rulemakings for facilities engaged in the manufacturing of PFAS and facilities engaged in metal finishing and electroplating.

“EPA is also moving quickly under the PFAS Roadmap to enhance PFAS reporting under the Toxics Release Inventory.  This fall, EPA plans to propose a rulemaking that would increase PFAS reporting under TRI by, among other changes, removing the eligibility of the de minimis exemption for PFAS for reporting and supplier notification purposes – reversing the approach set forth by the previous Administration.”