Industrial facilities discharged 224,029 pounds of toxic waste into Connecticut waterways in 2012, according to a June 19 report from the Environment Connecticut Research & Policy Center.
Environment Connecticut, a statewide citizen-based environmental advocacy organization, released its report Thursday titled, “Wasting Our Waterways: Toxic Industrial Pollution and Restoring the Promise of the Clean Water Act.” Aside from the Connecticut data, the document details the release of 206 million pounds of toxins into U.S. waterways in 2012, and describes the impact of those toxins on the environment and human health.
According to the report, industrial facilities dumped about 2,404 pounds of cancer-causing chemicals, 505 pounds of developmental toxins, and 1,567 pounds of reproductive toxins into Connecticut waterways in 2012. The report says the specific chemicals are known to cause a range of developmental and reproductive disorders. The toxins render many waterways, such as the Connecticut river, unswimmable and unfishable, the report says.
The data on the pollutants, according to the report, came directly from the Environmental Protection Agency, which requires polluters to report toxic discharges into the nation’s waterways. The EPA tracks the data based on those disclosures through the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program.
According to the report, the Allnex facility in Wallingford — formerly known as Cytec Industries — was the biggest waterway polluter in Connecticut, discharging 89,338 pounds of pollution into the Quinnipiac River.
The “Wasting Our Waterways” report comes as the EPA considers a proposed ruling to restore Clean Water Act protections to thousands of waterways in Connecticut and across the nation. The ruling, which clarifies the bodies of water covered by the Clean Water Act, was released in March after two U.S. Supreme Court decisions led to confusion about which waterways were under federal protection. Comment on the EPA’s proposed ruling is open until October.
For Connecticut, the restored EPA protections would cover 3,032 miles of streams that are currently subject to pollution, and which contribute to the water tables of up to 2.34 million state residents.
Nationally, toxic discharges have exposed nearly 60 percent of waterways and 20 million acres of wetlands to pollution or destruction.
“It’s still not as strong as the original Clean Water Act was for the first 30 years,” Susan Eastwood, New England’s Clean Water Action representative, said Thursday.
The change in Clean Water Act legislation that Eastwood referred to occurred in 2001, when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling said waterfowl migration routes couldn’t be used as connections between wetlands and navigable streams for the purpose of regulation.
A second ruling in 2006 said the reach of the Clean Water Act should be limited, but the Supreme Court didn’t define the extent of those limits.
Although the report paints the coverage as “vital,” Environment Connecticut Field Manager Chris Hamlin expressed concern regarding the opposing actions of many corporations.
“They’re fighting tooth and nail to stop these vital Clean Water Act protections,” Hamlin said.
Eastwood added that some opponents, like the Farm Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, have been dishonest in their efforts.
“They’re not telling the truth about the contents of this proposal,” Eastwood said. “One of the misleading examples is that farmers are saying, ‘this is going to be very difficult for us to deal with if they make more regulations with the water on our farms.’ It does regulate ephemeral streams, but the rule protects existing farming exemptions.”
However, there are still many who disagree with Eastwood. According to Don Parrish, Senior Director of the American Farm Bureau, the proposed EPA ruling would not be a “restoration” of past coverage, but rather an overreach of federal authority.
“The promise of the Clean Water Act was cooperative federalism,” Parrish said. “Part of that promise was that the federal government would protect some waters that were determined to be navigable waters, and that states were to protect other waters, and would have control over their land and water use. That’s the proper balance that Congress put in the Clean Water Act in 1972, and that’s a pretty balanced approach to federal regulation.”
Parrish also said that he believes the proposal to be quite a stretch.
“This proposal puts the EPA in the position of allowing the federal government to regulate things that are only wet when it rains,” Parrish said. “I don’t think by any stretches of the imagination, that it would meet the definition of ‘just where water pools’.
“Clearly the Supreme Court has twice said that the EPA has overreached in trying to regulate things that were not waters to the U.S., and that were state waters, and that were left for states to regulate,” Parrish added.
Several members of Congress have adopted Parrish’s views and are taking action to stop the ruling by sending environmental policy riders through the U.S. House Appropriations committee, which approved two riders through an Energy and Water Development subcommittee bill Wednesday. If the riders pass in Thursday’s vote, it would be much more difficult for the EPA to impose regulations that cover the majority of the nation’s waterways.
“All the experts we’ve talked to have said this is not good. You may not see EPA cops out on the land, but it makes for one more thing that people can challenge in court,” Montana Farm Bureau Federation spokesman John Youngberg said in a press release. “I think it’s telling that we’ve been forced into this.”
However, for people like Eastwood, the public benefits of the proposal far outweigh the costs.
“The [benefits] include flood protection, filtering pollution, providing wildlife habitat, supporting outdoor recreation and recharging groundwater,” Eastwood said. “When finalized, this rule will provide the regulatory assurance that’s been absent for over a decade, eliminate permit confusion and delay, and better protect the critical water resources on which our communities depend.”
Dr. Mark Mitchell, Senior Policy Advisor to Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, agreed with Eastwood.
“Environmental hazards are disproportionately placed in low-income communities and communities of color,” Mitchell said. “Environmental benefits are not shared by these same communities. The Connecticut River should be one of our biggest treasures — it should be accessible to low-income communities and communities of color.”