Louisiana waterways among most polluted in nation, report says
By Jennifer Larino, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on June 19, 2014
Louisiana’s waterways are among the most polluted in the nation, with industrial facilities releasing more than 12.6 million pounds of toxic chemicals into rivers, bayous and other waters in 2012, according to a report released Thursday (June 19) by the Environment America Research and Policy Center.
The Washington D.C.-based group is calling on Congress to reinforce protections for waterways under the Clean Water Act. The industry says it’s already working to cut down on pollution.
According to the report, industrial facilities put more than 206 million pounds of chemicals into waterways nationwide in 2012.
The findings are based on the most recent data reported by polluting facilities to theEnvironmental Protection Agency.
Louisiana’s waterways were third worst in the nation in terms of total pollution, behind Indiana and Texas.
“Louisiana’s waterways should be clean — for swimming, drinking, and supporting wildlife,” Environment America Campaign Coordinator Aseem Singh said in a written statement. “But too often, our waters have become a dumping ground for polluters.”
The report comes as the EPA weighs a proposed rule that would extend protections under the Clean Water Act, first passed in 1972, to thousands of wetlands and streams nationwide. The proposal has drawn opposition from industry and prompted several lawsuits.
The EPA currently collects self-reported release data on a number of toxins, including benzene, which has been linked to cancer, and nitrate compounds, which deplete oxygen and can lead to waterway “dead zones” when released in high quantities.
Louisiana’s largest source of water pollution in 2012 was the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge refinery, which released about 2 million pounds of toxins into the Bayou Sara-Thompson Creek watershed area, according to the Environment America analysis. The facility was the seventh-largest water polluter in the nation.
Plant spokeswoman Stephanie Cargile said in an email that the facility is meeting all regulatory limits and existing permits for toxic releases, all of which go into the Mississippi River.
She noted nitrates made up the majority of chemicals released in 2012. Neither the EPA nor the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality regulates nitrate releases.
Cargile said the company is working to lower the impact of its wastewater, including its multimillion-dollar Biox Basins project, which is expected to lower nitrate discharges by 45 percent.
The report also highlights the Lower Mississippi River-Lake Maurepas watershed as a pollution hotspot. Industrial facilities reported dumping 6.4 million pounds of chemicals in the area in 2012, including more than 44,000 pounds of chemicals linked to cancer.
Richard Metcalf, director of environmental affairs for the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, said the nitrates are a byproduct of processes used to remove ammonia from wastewater.
Metcalf said refineries in the state are now working to decrease or divert nitrate releases.
“Industry has been working very hard and, in fact, we’ve made great reductions,” Metcalf said. “There are studies looking at nitrate discharges in the river as we speak to see what are the actual contributions from Louisiana sources and the opportunities to mitigate some of those discharges.”
Metcalf added that the oil and gas and refining industry accounts for a comparatively small share of nitrate pollution.
According to the Environment America report, nearly one-third of all industrial nitrate pollution nationwide comes from poultry and meat processing plants.
Environment America spokesman John Rumpler said the EPA’s new rule strengthening the Clean Water Act is key in making sure water pollution is reduced across all industries.
Rumpler said industry lawsuits have carved a number of loopholes in the law. The EPA proposal would “restore” the original intent of the law, he said.
The EPA is gathering public comment on the proposal through October, after which it will decide whether to move forward with the rule as is or make changes.