Toxic Mud Fouls U.S. Waters
By Cat Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, November 9, 1999 (ENS) - A serious environmental problem may be lurking in the mud under the placid waters of U.S. lakes, rivers and ocean shores. Environmental groups say millions of tons of toxic contaminated sediment from harbors and shipping channels are dredged each year, then dumped back into waters where they can poison humans and wildlife.
Pollutants from factories, farms, streets and the air make their way through water into sediments. The chemicals include PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxin, mercury, lead and hydrocarbons, which have been shown to cause cancer, reproductive abnormalities, birth defects and compromised immune systems.
"Like a muddy Typhoid Mary, sediments can be carriers of an unseen threat," said Beth Millemann, author of a new report released today, "Muddy Waters: The Toxic Wasteland Below America's Oceans, Coasts, Rivers and Lakes."
In a 1998 inventory, the EPA identified hundreds of problem sites around the country, many of them located in coastal areas. In fact, every major harbor in the nation suffers from moderate to severe sediment contamination, according to the EPA.
The EPA is developing new standards to address dredging, but conservation groups say the recommendations are so lax that even more contaminated sediments could be dumped, and more pollutants could be spewed out of pipes and sewage treatment plants. The scientists and environmental experts, who gathered in Washington to attend a "Summit on Sediments," called on EPA to dump its weak provisions, not more toxic mud.
Leaders from 15 states with contaminated harbors attended the "Summit on Sediments." Speakers from six states and Washington DC spoke at a press conference today, and urged that treatment technologies developed by the private sector, and implemented in states like New Jersey, be adopted nationwide. New Jersey has developed alternatives to ocean dumping to handle all its short term needs, and a ban on dumping sediments off the state's coast has been in effect since September 1997.
"The barbaric practice of ocean dumping was state of the art in 1902, but in New Jersey, we're meeting the 21st century with new technologies that move us forward, protect the environment and create jobs," said Cynthia Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. "If we can do it, so must the rest of the nation," said Zipf. Clean Ocean Action is a New Jersey based coalition of 150 environmental, fishing, business and civic organizations.
"Our families are fed up with cancer, birth defects and infertility especially when it's preventable," said Jackie Savitz, executive director of the Coast Alliance, a national coalition of environmental leaders. "As long as EPA fails to issue protective criteria, people and wildlife will continue to eat fish contaminated with toxics from sediments, making chemical exposure and health effects a fact of life."
The scientists and environmental leaders have united to demand action nationwide and in their home states. They released a ten point citizens agenda for action that included their call for an end to open water dumping of contaminated sediments, EPA's development of truly protective standards and the national implementation of alternative treatment technologies.