Ohio ranked first in the nation in the number of times its major factories and cities released an unauthorized amount of harmful chemicals and untreated sewage into waterways, according to a report released by an environmental group Thursday.
Cities and industrial facilities across the 50 states frequently deposited more pollution into the nation's waterways than the 1972 federal Clean Water Act allows, said the report from the nonprofit group Environment Ohio. The group looked at 2005 water pollution data from cities and industries that were deemed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to release a significant amount of toxins into major waterways.
Ohio had a total of 1,797 instances in which industrial facilities and cities exceeded levels allowed by permits. "If more people were aware that there are waterways polluted, there would be more reason to hold these polluters accountable," said Amy Gomberg, environmental advocate for Environment Ohio.
The group received the pollution information through a Freedom of Information request to the EPA. Permit holders are in violation if the amount of pollutants exceeds the limits spelled out in their permits. A permit holder must ensure that there is enough oxygen in the water for fish to live and report to regulators whether they have exceeded the limits daily, weekly, monthly or every three months, depending on the requirements, Ohio EPA spokeswoman Linda Oros said.
Those limits remain the same no matter how much the water is swollen by rain, she said. Besides chemicals associated with sewage and sewage treatment, common pollutants include copper, oil, cyanide and heavy metals, she said. Ohio ranked fifth in the country in the percentage of major facilities and cities that exceeded permit levels at least once, with 217 out of 292, or 74.3 percent. Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire were ahead of Ohio in the category.
Violations of the Clean Water Act put chemicals and contaminants in the water that can cause cancer and neurological and reproductive illnesses, said Tim Buckley, an environmental health science professor at Ohio State University. "Such costs should not be tolerated," Buckley said. The Ohio EPA said the state has assessed more than $22 million in penalties for water violations from 2001 through 2006. That includes both untreated sewage and harmful metallic chemicals such as mercury.