Something in the Water

If you're going to stop pollution, you first need to know that the pollution in question exists.

That's the impetus behind one of the most useful tools out there for working to improve the environment in this country, the EPA's toxic releases inventory (TRI).  TRI was created in 1986 to make information on the toxic substances that industrial facilities release available to the public.

Today we're taking advantage of that tool by releasing our second Wasting Our Waterways report.  In this report, we take a look at the toxic substances that are being released into our rivers, lakes, streams, and other waterways nationwide, to get a sense of the overall state of America's waters.

What did we find?  Lots of interesting things, many of them fairly disturbing.

  • In 2010, industrial facilities discharged 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals into waterways around the country.
  • Polluted rivers kept getting more polluted.  We took a look at the Grand Calumet river system in Indiana, one of the most polluted networks of waterways for decades. Even as the government tries to clean up the river, it ranks high on the list for discharges of releases of developmental and reproductive toxins.
  • You could release a lot of toxic substances without anyone noticing, were it not for reporting requirements.  The huge amount of metal and arsenic compounds that the Jerritt Canyon Mine in Nevada released into some local streams kept jumping out at us, but, other than in the TRI itself, this wasn't publicly announced anywhere before the publication of our report.

The value of disclosure is that we now know all this information.  The real value, though, is that people can act on it.  There are simple steps we can take - like requiring that chemicals be proven safe before they enter widespread use, or ensuring that the Clean Water Act covers all waterways and is adequately enforced - that will put us on the road to fixing this problem.