The two rivers that converge at Marietta are among the 10 most polluted in the country, according to a new environmental report.
The information, culled from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory from 2007, shows that more toxic chemicals are dumped into the Ohio River than any other waterway in the country. The Muskingum River, meanwhile, was the ninth most polluted waterway, according to the report.
What that data means about the safety of the waterways, though, is getting mixed analysis from different environmental groups.
JUSTIN MCINTOSH The Marietta Times
Two men look out over the Muskingum River Friday, on a bench in Muskingum Park. The Muskingum River was named the ninth most polluted river in the country in a new environmental report, released this week by Environment Ohio. The report also rated the Ohio River as the most polluted river in the country.
Amanda Moore, field organizer with Environment Ohio, the group that put together the report, said the data proves what was common knowledge where she grew up in Bridgeport, along the Ohio River.
"It's not a clean river to swim in," she said.
It also shows, Moore said, that more needs to be done to clean up the country's waterways.
To see the report: environmentohio.org , click on "Wasting Our Waterways" report.
at a glance
31.06 million (pounds of toxic discharge) - Ohio River
14.09 million (pounds of toxic discharge) - New River (North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia)
12.71 million (pounds of toxic discharge) - Mississippi River
4.99 million (pounds of toxic discharge) - Muskingum River
Source: Environment Ohio's "Wasting Our Waterways" report.
Environment Ohio is using the data to call on the EPA and Ohio's Congressional leaders to restore the protections of the Clean Water Act by passing the Clean Water Restoration Act, and to issue tougher permitting regulations and enforcement.
After all, Moore said, the Ohio River is ranked first in the nation for most cancer-causing toxic discharges, with 96,669 pounds in 2007. Overall, the river had more than 31 million pounds of toxics dumped into it in 2007, the report says.
The Muskingum River, meanwhile, had an overall total of a little less than 5 million pounds of toxics discharged into it.
Kraton Polymers LLC in Belpre was the biggest discharger along the Ohio River in the Buckeye State, Moore said, with about 577,000 pounds in 2007. Eramet Marietta Inc. was No. 2 in the state, with more than 180,000 pounds. But neither facility could be located on a graph in the report listing the top 20 facilities.
AK Steel Corp Coshocton Works in Coshocton led the way for the Muskingum River.
Among the toxic chemicals discharged by facilities are lead, mercury and dioxin, the report says. Exposure to these chemicals is linked to cancer, developmental disorders and reproductive disorders.
Linda Oros, spokeswoman with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said the agency closely monitors which chemicals are discharged into waterways - and at what levels - to ensure safe rivers, streams and lakes.
"We're concerned about (the Ohio River) as well, and have been for a number of years," she said.
Oros said companies are allowed to discharge a certain amount of chemicals according to their permits, which are determined based on agency guidelines for safety.
"The amount allowed to be discharged is determined by scientific monitoring," she said. "It varies from facility to facility, and chemical to chemical."
Last year alone, the agency had 49 enforcement orders, doled out $1.28 million in penalties, and $997,000 in supplemental and environmental project penalties, which are projects businesses are required to do to improve the environment in lieu of fines.
Eric Fitch, director of Marietta College's environmental science program, said the latest study shows how little progress has been made cleaning up the country's waterways since the Clean Water Act was passed in the 1970s.
"We've lost ground," he said. "While in recent months CWA enforcement has been ticking up in terms of importance, we see more and more the bodies of water in the United States are not protected, and they should be. It's the law; it's the law of the land going on 40 years."
Kristyn Robinson, watershed coordinator for the Friends of the Lower Muskingum River, an organization formed to restore, protect and maintain the river, disagreed about the Muskingum River's safety as it relates to swimming or fishing.
"I don't believe that's true," she said. "We are not the cleanest river, but we have good fish populations in our river, healthy fish populations of sensitive species."
Robinson cited a 2006 report by the Ohio EPA that surveyed the Muskingum River from Coshocton down to the mouth in Marietta.
"They found overall a healthy river," she said. "They did water samples, biological samples, habitat assessments.... And they found that overall our river is in good health."
Robinson also pointed out that the Environment Ohio report also doesn't specify the Muskingum River as having large amounts of cancer-causing toxics or developmental inhibitors.
According to the Environment Ohio report, the Ohio River leads the nation for having the highest total of cancer-causing chemicals discharged into it, with 96,699 pounds; is fourth in the country for having the most developmental toxicant releases, with 37,364 pounds; and is first in the nation for having the most reproductive toxicant releases, with 29,665 pounds.
The Muskingum River doesn't even appear in the top 20 of any of those lists. The river does show up as having the 32nd most developmental toxicant releases, and the 45h most reproductive toxicants, while not showing up in the top 50 most cancer-causing chemicals discharged list.
"So while we have a toxic release mass amount, the actual types of toxic materials being released into the Muskingum River aren't the highly toxic, cancer-causing materials," Robinson said. "That really makes sense to me. We would not be finding sensitive fish species if we had toxic chemicals in our river."
The chemical found most often in the Muskingum River, Robinson said, is nitrogen, which poses some toxicity, but not at a high level.
The more nitrogen in the water decreases the amount of oxygen and species will uptake in nitrogen," she said. "We don't have fish kills, though. There's a sufficient amount of oxygen."