How Safe Is Our Water?

Posted: July 02, 1993

As the long hot summer begins, most of us think about spending a few days at a nearby beach or lake fishing, swimming, boating or surfing. For the less energetic among us, summer signals some time in a lounge chair with feet soaking in a cool stream.

Exposure to toxic chemicals or raw sewage is not on most of our minds. Unfortunately, however, the health risks from water pollution are real.

Far too many of our waterways are contaminated. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that one third of our nation's rivers and more than half of our lakes are not safe for fishing, swimming or other uses.

Here in Pennsylvania, manufacturing industries reported dumping 1.22- million pounds of toxics into our surface waters and 15.5-million pounds into sewage treatment plants in 1991.

Congress passed the Clean Water Act 20 years ago with the goal of making all of the nation's waterways swimmable and fishable. Today, we face health advisories on the fish we eat and waters in which we swim, and shellfish beds are closed in many parts of the country. Over half of our states, including Pennsylvania, have issued consumption advisories as a result of mercury contamination.

The time has come for Congress to write a new Clean Water Act that makes good on the promise made over two decades ago. To ensure that all of our waterways are fishable and swimmable in summers to come, a new Clean Water Act must stop illegal discharges to waterways and prevent toxic pollution.

Noncompliance with the Clean Water Act is widespread. According to recent EPA data, more than one out of every five of the nation's largest water polluters are in serious or chronic violation of the Act; 40-percent of these facilities report some type of violation of the Act.

The newly introduced Clean Water Enforcement Act will go a long way toward stopping illegal discharges to our waterways.

To prevent future toxic pollution, Congress must amend the Clean Water Act to include a program for banning the most hazardous and persistent chemicals and requiring companies to look for ways to reduce the use of all other toxics.

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