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The Mechanics
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Environment/Sustainability Tue Nov 24 2009

Environment Illinois Looks at Our Water Supply

The quality of our water -- arguably the most precious natural resource -- is becoming increasingly screwed over by corporate bureaucracy, human laziness and ineffective governmental regulation. In a rather poignant report, the advocacy group Environment Illinois recently weighed in on the state's water quality in 38-page report titled "Wasting Our Waterways: Toxic Industrial Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act." Mechanics plowed through the report to see how Illinois' water supply ranks.

According to the report:

  • Industrial facilities dumped 232 million pounds of toxic chemicals into American waterways in 2007, according to the federal government's Toxic Release Inventory...Pulp and paper mills, along with coal-fired power plants, were among the largest dischargers of cancer-causing chemicals.
  • About 456,000 pounds of chemicals linked to developmental disorders were discharged into more than 1,200 waterways. The Alabama River led the way in discharges of developmental toxicants, followed by the Verdigris River in Kansas and Oklahoma and the Mississippi River.

While Chicago isn't specifically mentioned in the report, Illinois and Indiana don't make out well in the study. The Ohio River -- which runs through Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- ranks number one in the list of the top 20 waterways for discharges of cancer-causing chemicals, with 96,669 pounds of cancer-causing chemicals released in 2007. Eek.

When looking at the Appendix of the study, Mechanics also noticed that Illinois and Indiana were consistently the leaders among states for the amount of toxic discharges. Among the findings:

  • Indiana ranked number one for the top state with toxic discharges to waterways with 27,298,889 total toxics released. Illinois followed in 11th place, releasing 8,768,573 total toxins.
  • The Illinois River ranked number 11 in the list of the top 50 waterways for total toxic discharges, releasing 3,926,771 pounds of toxins.

So who are some of the main statewide culprits?

  • AK Steel Corp. in Rockport, Ind., which released 24,120,227 pounds of toxic pollutants in 2007 into the Ohio River.
  • Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. in Hillsdale, Ill., which released 3,063,360 pounds into the Rock River.
  • Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. in Beardstown, Ill., which released 3,053,330 pounds of toxins into the Illinois River.
  • Baldwin Energy Complex in Baldwin, Ill., which released 5,277 pounds of toxins into the Kaskaskia River.
  • Arcelormittal Indiana Harbor LLC, which released 3,910 pounds of toxins into the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal.

And two local ones:

  • USS Gary Works in Gary, Ind., which released 2,781 pounds of toxins into Lake Michigan and the Grand Calumet River (its baby sister, the Little Calumet River, is pictured above).
  • Joliet Generating Station in Joliet, Ill., which released 2,183 pounds of toxins into the Des Plaines River.

And are we doomed? Not quite. There's of course lots that can be done.

In response to these findings, Environment Illinois recommends in the report that there be more stringent chemical laws and stricter enforcement of the Clean Water Act. This means requiring "chemical manufacturers to test all chemicals for their safety and submit the results of that testing to the government and the public." In addition, the government should "regulate chemicals based on their intrinsic capacity to cause harm to the environment or health, rather than basing regulation on resource-intensive and flawed efforts to determine 'safe' levels of exposure to those chemicals."

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