Whatever you do, don’t go in the water! The majority of America’s rivers and streams are so polluted, they pose a serious threat to the environment and public health, says Environment America in its recently released report, “Wasting our Waterways: Toxic Industrial Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act.” While there have been improvements since act was passed in 1972, the center notes that “the nation is still a long way from meeting the goals of the Clean Water Act. Even today, industrial facilities dump millions of pounds of toxic chemicals into rivers, lakes and streams—with industrial discharges affecting thousands of waterways, large and small, in all 50 states.”
Old black water, keep on rolling! As originally conceived, the Clean Water Act was supposed to curtail all agricultural and industrial discharges into our waterways by 1986. That hasn’t happened, as the center’s report plainly makes clear. In 2007, a total of 232 million pounds of toxic chemicals were dumped into the 1,900 rivers and streams surveyed. These pollutants include nitrates, which pose a serious health risk to infants; 1.5 million pounds of known carcinogens, and 456,000 pounds of chemicals linked to developmental disorders. According to the report, the three most toxic waterways in the country are the Ohio River, the New River on the eastern seaboard and the Mississippi River.
The Golden State came out relatively untarnished in the report. In fact, the center partially based its study on the list of toxins developed under Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. Out of the 50 states, Indiana, Virginia and Nebraska led the way in terms of total pollutants dumped into waterways; California ranked 17. However, the reader should not infer that all is hunky-dory in our state. In 2006, the Environment California Research & Policy Center recommended dramatic reductions in agricultural pollution entering the Klamath, San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers, as well as revamping the California Superfund Program to address toxic runoff from mines into the same three rivers.