Over 1.4 Million Pounds of Toxic Chemicals Dumped into Minnesota Waterways

For Immediate Release

World Water Day: Thursday March 22 -- Industrial facilities dumped 1,455,361 pounds of toxic chemicals into Minnesota waterways, according to a new report released today by Environment Minnesota and co-authored by the Frontier Group. Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act also reports that 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals were discharged into 1,400 waterways across the country.

Along its course in Minnesota, 703, 019 pounds of toxic chemicals were dumped by industrial facilities into the Mississippi River, and 47,619 pounds were dumped into the Blue Earth River. Of the 35,800 pounds dumped into the Rainy River, 700 pounds were carcinogens. Other major dumping included 31,071 pounds into the Red Lake River, and 16,216 pounds into the Red River.

“Most of Minnesota’s waterways are too polluted right now. Polluters dump over 1.4 million pounds of toxic chemicals into our rivers and streams every year,” said Samantha Chadwick, the Preservation Advocate with Environment Minnesota. “It’s time to turn the tide of toxic pollution and restore our waterways to health. For one thing, we should restore Clean Water Act protections to all our waterways.”

“Environment Minnesota is to be commended for shining a bright light on the disturbing fact that America’s rivers are being poisoned” commented U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN4). “At a time when the Republican Congress is focused on rolling back environmental standards and protecting polluters, this report appropriately highlights how hundreds of millions of pounds of toxins are currently being dumped into our waterways.  This report clearly shows that both public health and the health of our environment are at great risk and action is required.”

The report documents and analyzes the dangerous levels of pollutants discharged to America’s waters by compiling toxic chemical releases reported to the U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory for 2010, the most recent data available.

Major findings of the report include:

•    The Mississippi River ranks 2nd in the nation for total toxic discharges in 2010, with 12.7 million pounds dumped into it along its entire 10 state course.

•    Along its course in Minnesota, 703, 019 pounds of toxic chemicals were dumped by industrial facilities into the Mississippi River, and 47,619 pounds were dumped into the Blue Earth River. Of the 35,800 pounds dumped into the Rainy River, 700 pounds were carcinogens. Other major dumping included 31,071 pounds into the Red Lake River, and 16,216 pounds into the Red River.

•    The toxic dumping into the Mississippi river along its course includes over 180,000 pounds of cancer-causing chemicals, 74,000 pounds of developmental toxicants, and over 70,000 pounds of reproductive toxicants.

•    Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative was the largest polluter in Minnesota in the Toxic Release Inventory in 2010, dumping 562,026 pounds of toxic chemicals.

•    For 16 of the top 50 waterways by total volume of toxic releases nationwide, one company was responsible for all or the vast majority of the discharges. In most cases, it was an agriculture or food company; for example, Cargill Inc. was the sole company discharging into the Shonka Ditch in Nebraska (which is 8th on the list nationwide). Chemical, petroleum, paper, and manufacturing industries are commonly the big polluters across the country.

•    Out-of-state mining companies are proposing new copper-nickel mines in northern Minnesota near the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior. Hard-rock mines of this sort are major polluters across the country. The Jerritt Canyon gold mine in Nevada reported a massive discharge – 1.2 million pounds of arsenic, nickel, zinc, and copper compounds into three small streams near the mine.

Trevor Russell, the Watershed Program Director with Friends of the Mississippi River, added “just weeks after the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency acknowledged that about half of our state’s waterways don’t meet pollution standards, the information in this report is not good news.”

Environment Minnesota’s report summarizes discharges of cancer-causing chemicals, chemicals that persist in the environment, and chemicals with the potential to cause reproductive problems ranging from birth defects to reduced fertility. Among the toxic chemicals discharged by facilities are arsenic, mercury, benzene, and ammonia. Exposure to many of these chemicals is linked to cancer, developmental disorders, and reproductive disorders.

“There are common-sense steps that we can take to turn the tide against toxic pollution of our waters,” added Chadwick.

In order to curb the toxic pollution threatening the Mississippi River and other waterways, Environment Minnesota recommends the following:

1.    Pollution Prevention:  Industrial facilities should reduce their toxic discharges to waterways by switching from hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives.  
2.    Protect all waters:  The Obama administration should finalize guidelines and conduct a rulemaking to clarify that the Clean Water Act applies to all of our waterways - including the nearly 47,000 miles, or around half of streams in Minnesota for which jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act has been called into question as a result of two polluter-driven Supreme Court decisions in the last decade.
3.    Tough permitting and enforcement:  EPA and Minnesota’s state agencies should issue permits with tough, numeric limits for each type of pollution discharged, ratchet down those limits over time, and enforce those limits with credible penalties.

“The bottom line is that our waterways shouldn’t be industry’s dumping ground. Our rivers are too important to the health of our state and our quality of life. We need to move toward cleaner water now, and we are counting on our leaders to act to protect the health of our rivers, lakes and streams,” concluded Chadwick.

The full report is available online at http://www.environmentminnesota.org/reports or you may request a copy emailed to you.

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Environment Minnesota is a state-wide citizen based environmental organization working for clean water, clean air, and open space. Follow us on Twitter @EnvironmentMN