The Clean Water Act is neglected, at a cost in suffering, notes an investigative article in today's New York Times

The Clean Water Act is neglected, at a cost in suffering, notes an investigative article in today's New York Times

As noted in today’s New York Times: “Almost four decades ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to force polluters to disclose the toxins they dump into waterways and to give regulators the power to fine or jail offenders. States have passed pollution statutes of their own. But in recent years, violations of the Clean Water Act have risen steadily across the nation, an extensive review of water pollution records by The New York Times found.
 
 
In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.
 
 
However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment. State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene.
Because it is difficult to determine what causes diseases like cancer, it is impossible to know how many illnesses are the result of water pollution, or contaminants’ role in the health problems of specific individuals.
 
 
But concerns over these toxins are great enough that Congress and the E.P.A. regulate more than 100 pollutants through the Clean Water Act and strictly limit 91 chemicals or contaminants in tap water through the Safe Drinking Water Act.
 
 
Regulators themselves acknowledge lapses. The new E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said in an interview that despite many successes since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, today the nation’s water does not meet public health goals, and enforcement of water pollution laws is unacceptably low. She added that strengthening water protections is among her top priorities. State regulators say they are doing their best with insufficient resources.
 
 
The Times obtained hundreds of thousands of water pollution records through Freedom of Information Act requests to every state and the E.P.A., and compiled a national database of water pollution violations that is more comprehensive than those maintained by states or the E.P.A. (For an interactive version, which can show violations in any community, visit www.nytimes.com/toxicwaters.)
 
 
In addition, The Times interviewed more than 250 state and federal regulators, water-system managers, environmental advocates and scientists.
 
 
That research shows that an estimated one in 10 Americans have been exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals or fails to meet a federal health benchmark in other ways.
 
 
Those exposures include carcinogens in the tap water of major American cities and unsafe chemicals in drinking-water wells. Wells, which are not typically regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, are more likely to contain contaminants than municipal water systems.
 
 
Because most of today’s water pollution has no scent or taste, many people who consume dangerous chemicals do not realize it, even after they become sick, researchers say.
 
 
But an estimated 19.5 million Americans fall ill each year from drinking water contaminated with parasites, bacteria or viruses, according to a study published last year in the scientific journal Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. That figure does not include illnesses caused by other chemicals and toxins.”
 
 
The complete, very lengthy article can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/us/13water.html?_r=2&hp.
 
 
The N.Y. Times also compiled a graphic of number of regulated facilities in each state: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/09/13/us/0913-water.html.
 
 
Finally, the N.Y. Times put together a search engine to allow one to find violators by zip code or state: http://projects.nytimes.com/toxic-waters/polluters.