Report: Ohio ranks top among water polluters

Columbus – Ohio ranked first in the nation in the number of
times its major factories and cities released an unauthorized
amount of harmful chemicals and untreated sewage into waterways,
according to a report released by an environmental group Oct.

Cities and industrial facilities across the 50 states frequently
deposited more pollution into the nation’s waterways than the 1972
federal Clean Water Act allows, said the report from the nonprofit
group Environment Ohio.

The group looked at 2005 water pollution data from cities and
industries that were deemed by the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency to release a significant amount of toxins into major

Ohio had a total of 1,797 instances in which industrial
facilities and cities exceeded levels allowed by permits.

“If more people were aware that there are waterways polluted
there would be more reason to hold these polluters accountable,”
said Amy Gomberg, environmental advocate for Environment Ohio.

The group received the pollution information through a Freedom
of Information request to the EPA.

Permit holders are in violation if the amount of pollutants
exceeds the limits spelled out in their permits. A permit holder
must ensure that there is enough oxygen in the water for fish to
live and report to regulators whether they have exceeded the limits
daily, weekly, monthly or every three months, depending on the
requirements, Ohio EPA spokeswoman Linda Oros said.

Those limits remain the same no matter how much the water is
swollen by rain, she said.

Besides chemicals associated with sewage and sewage treatment,
common pollutants include copper, oil, cyanide and heavy metals,
she said.

Ohio ranked fifth in the country in the percentage of major
facilities and cities that exceeded permit levels at least once,
with 217 out of 292, or 74.3 percent. Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode
Island, and New Hampshire were ahead of Ohio in the category.

Violations of the Clean Water Act put chemicals and contaminants
in the water that can cause cancer and neurological and
reproductive illnesses, said Tim Buckley, an environmental health
science professor at Ohio State University.

“Such costs should not be tolerated,” Buckley said.

The Ohio EPA said the state has assessed more than $22 million
in penalties for water violations from 2001 through 2006. That
includes both untreated sewage and harmful metallic chemicals such
as mercury.

Many of the untreated sewage violations are a result of
municipalities that had combined storm water and sewage drains,
Oros said. When the piping used for the two systems is combined,
major rains or floods create an overflow of storm water that pushes
untreated sewage into surface water before it gets to a sewage
treatment plant.

As of 2005, 50 out of 100 municipalities had separated systems.
The municipalities that still have combined systems have put
together a timeline for separating, but it takes “tremendous
capital investment,” Oros said.

Most communities upgrade by digging up old sewer systems and
installing larger pipe, which causes fewer backups. A system that
controls backups by temporarily storing runoff and more efficiently
removing debris than conventional sewers costs less, said Robert
Andoh, director of innovation for Hydro International, which
designs such systems.

However, federal funding for replacing systems has dwindled
since the Clean Water Act was enacted and cities are scrambling to
find the money to upgrade, Andoh said.

“It’s more due to political will than anything else,” Andoh
said. “That source of funding has started to dry up, but the needs
have not gone away.”

Associated Press writer John McCarthy contributed to this

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