Majority of municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants exceeding EPA pollution permits, study finds

(Washington-AP, Oct. 17, 2002 7:38 PM)  Four of five wastewater treatment plants and chemical and industrial facilities in the United States pollute waterways beyond what their federal permits allow, according to government data compiled by an environmental group.

More than 90 percent of the plants and facilities in Ohio, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Iowa, Puerto Rico, Maine, West Virginia, Delaware, New York and Connecticut exceeded permit limits between 1999 and 2001, said Thursday's report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The average excess was 10 times what the permit called for, according to the report in which U.S. PIRG analyzed Environmental Protection Agency records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

"Polluters are breaking the law, not only frequently but flagrantly," said the report's author, Alison Cassady, research director for U.S. PIRG.

EPA spokesman Joe Martyak said the report exaggerates the risks, for example, by calculating facilities' performances monthly rather than every six months as the EPA does. He said some violations are due to circumstances like storm water runoff or equipment upgrades that are unintentional.

"Yes, there's still room for work to be done but it is not a dire situation as the PIRG report would have you believe," Martyak said.

A spokesman for operators of publicly owned sewage treatment plants disputed some of the report's conclusions.

"This notion that you can simply enforce everything away is simply untrue," said Adam Krantz of the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies. "We are the guardians of the Clean Water Act. We are not polluters."

Releases of the worst toxic chemicals, those known or suspected to cause cancer and other serious health effects, averaged eight times more than is permitted under the Clean Water Act, the report said.

For those chemicals, the states or territories with the highest percentage of facilities in violation -- each with more than a third out of compliance  -- are Puerto Rico, Ohio, Rhode Island, the Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, New York, Arizona, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Indiana.

The report, released a day ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, found:

-- 81 percent, or 5,116 of 6,332 major facilities, exceeded their permits at least once between 1999 and 2001.

-- 262 major facilities exceeded their permits for at least 10 reporting periods during that time.