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Press Release

September 2, 1996

Dishonorable Discharge: Press Release

This report was released in September, 1996

Dishonorable Discharge
Toxic Pollution of America's Waters

So what's the big deal? It's been years since an American river burst into flames.

In a nutshell, the deal is this: chemical plants, pulp mills, steel factories and all manner of other manufacturing concerns dumped more than a billion pounds of toxic chemicals into America's rivers, lakes, streams, bays and coastal waters between 1990 and 1994. Another huge load of toxic substances--we estimate about 450 million pounds worth--ended up in U.S. waters during those 5 years after having been flushed by factories through sewage treatment plants.

The vast majority of this pollution was, and is, legal. The effects of the various pollutants, and the chemical soups they form in most rivers, have scarcely been studied, much less understood. The toxic emissions we examined, massive though they are, are but a fraction of the total pollutant load entering the nation's waterways--maybe 5 percent. Many polluting facilities are not required to report all of what they dump into rivers or sewers. Many chemicals are not on the government checklist for those facilities that are required to report. And most Americans have no idea who's dumping how much of what pollutants into their favorite river, lake or bay.

As a result of this continuing pollution, thousands of water bodies nationwide are damaged, as are the economies that depend on them, from tourism to fisheries. And the toxic load only adds more stress to the nation's aging and overworked drinking water infrastructure.