100,000 Water Pollution Violations a Year

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Despite federal environmental hallmarks like the Clean Water Act, America’s water supply is increasingly becoming polluted with dangerous substances as a result of repeated dumping by companies, most of whom have gone unpunished.

An investigation by The New York Times found violations of the Clean Water Act have gone up in recent years across the United States—and in just the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other businesses have violated water pollution laws more than 500,000 times. Although many of the violations are minor ones, the worst violations include discharging toxins that can cause cancer, birth defects and other illnesses. In fact, it was reported that 10% of Americans—or about 30 million people—have been exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals or fails to meet federal health standards.
A lack of enforcement on the part of states and the federal government has allowed polluters to go unpunished, resulting in reoccurring violations. According to the Times, last year 40% of the nation’s water systems violated the Safe Drinking Act. Less than 3% of Clean Water Act violations were punished with fines.
Examples of health problems arising from contaminated water supplies include children living near coal mines in West Virginia suffering from scabs and rashes on their arms, legs and chest because of bathwater polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals, or others having their teeth rot out from contaminated drinking water.
Mining companies appear particularly immune to punishment. In the words of Charles Duhigg of The New York Times, while acknowledging that coal companies had injected illegal concentrations of arsenic, lead and other chemicals into the ground near the water sources of various communities, “West Virginia officials, when asked about these violations, said regulators had accidentally overlooked many pollution records the companies submitted until after the statute of limitations had passed, so no action was taken.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, at a Cost in Suffering (by Charles Duhigg, New York Times)


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