Monday, October 15, 2007

Texas leads nation in number of water polluters

By R.A. DYER - Star-Telegram staff writer - Fri. Oct. 12, 2007
AUSTIN -- Texas led the nation in the number of facilities discharging pollution at levels exceeding federal clean water guidelines, according to a new report from an environmental watchdog group.

The Austin-based Environment Texas said that in 2005, 318 facilities in the state reported 1,340 incidents in which they discharged more pollution than permitted under the federal Clean Water Act. The group also reported that more than 53 percent of Texas' industrial and municipal facilities discharged more pollution in 2005 than permitted under the law.

"With so many facilities dumping so much pollution, no one should be surprised that more than half of Texas waterways are unsafe for swimming and fishing -- but we should be outraged," Environment Texas Citizen Outreach director Brad Hicks said in a statement.

Harris County was No. 1 among all U.S. counties for the most facilities that exceeded their Clean Water Act permits at least once, according to the report.

The report was released Thursday to commemorate the 35th anniversary next week of the Clean Water Act.

About the report

Using information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gathered under the federal Freedom of Information Act, Environment Texas reviewed the extent of discharges for all facilities that exceeded their Clean Water Act permits in 2005. The director of Environment Texas said 2005 was the last full year for which comprehensive data was available.

In Tarrant County

During the study period, the only Tarrant County entity to report pollution discharges that exceeded the allowable levels was the city of Azle. The report lists seven such discharges by the municipality. Azle utility manager Rick White said the discharges occurred at a wastewater plant at Ash Creek and were largely due to malfunctioning equipment. He said the equipment supplier corrected the problem.

"Everybody has problems but we haven't had any significant problem since then," he said.

Other findings

Nationally, more than 3,600 major facilities, or 57 percent, exceeded their Clean Water Act limits at least once in 2005. The facilities exceeded the limits a total of 24,400 times during that period, which means that many exceeded their permits more than once and for more than one pollutant, according to the report.

Texas is not among the 10 states with the highest percentage of major facilities that exceeded their limits at least once. Those states are Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Ohio, Connecticut, New York, North Dakota, California, and West Virginia.

Texas is among the 10 U.S. states with the most violations during that period. The others are Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, California, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida.

The report also noted that California, Pennsylvania and Ohio were the states with at least 100 incidents that were at least 500 percent above the permitted level.

Pollution problems

More than 20,000 bodies of waters in the United States are too polluted to meet basic quality standards, according to the EPA.

Water pollution also caused more than 25,000 beach closings and advisory days in 2006, the most in 17 years, according to the report.

In 2006, more than half the states -- 32 -- had statewide fish consumption advisories in place because of toxic pollution, according to the report.

About 850 billion gallons of raw sewage is dumped into U.S. waterways each year, according to the report.

The Clean Water Act

Signed into law Oct. 18, 1972, the Clean Water Act set goals to have all U.S. waterways swimmable and fishable by 1983 and to eliminate all discharges of pollutants by 1985, according to information from Environment Texas. Under the law, facilities are called upon to report any improper discharges. Government regulators can then assess penalties, although in Texas they typically do not, according to a recent state auditor's report.

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