Judged by the amount of toxic chemicals discharged by industry, Oregons waterways rank the 33rd worst in the nation, an environmental group says.
Oregon industry in 2012 dumped 1.3 million pounds of toxic chemicals into rivers, streams and lakes, Environment Oregon said in a report released Thursday.
The environmental group said Siltronic Corp., a semiconductor-related manufacturer in Portland, released 350,562 pounds of chemicals into the Willamette River in 2012, making it the top discharging plant in the state.
With facilities dumping so much pollution, no one should be surprised that more than half of our waterways are unsafe for swimming and fishing, said Alexa Pettinari of Environment Oregon.
The information comes from discharge permit figures submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by companies for 2012, the most recent year available, plus other data from the EPA and other government agencies.
The 1972 federal Clean Water Act makes it illegal to discharge pollutants into navigable waters unless the discharger has a federal permit.
Environmental lawyer Charlie Tebbutt said the Clean Water Act is supposed to protect the nations waterways. However, the permitting process allows abundant pollution, he said.
Tebbutt said states, which are mainly responsible for enforcing the law, could be more vigorous in preventing pollution.
In terms of pounds, Oregon factories discharge much more into the air than into waterways, EPA figures show.
For example, the International Paper plant in Springfield discharged 485,946 pounds of toxics into the air in 2012, nearly 10 times the amount it released into waterways.
Another major water pollution source is the Cascade Pacific pulp mill in Halsey, northwest of Harrisburg, in Linn County, according to the EPA inventory.
The plant discharged 62,907 pounds of toxics in the Willamette River, including ammonia, formic acid and manganese, plus catechol and lead, the EPA figures show. The plant also discharged nearly 1.3 million pounds of toxics in the air.
Pettinari said that in April the EPA proposed to restore Clean Water Act protections to thousands of streams and wetlands across the country. In Oregon, those waterways include 61,000 miles of mainly non-navigable waterways, such as wetlands and small or seasonal streams.
The EPA is taking comment on the proposal until Oct. 21, she said.
We want people to tell the EPA to close the loopholes in the Clean Water Act, Pettinari said.
Senior Editor Christian Wihtol contributed to this article.