News Brief

EPA Ignoring Hundreds of Toxic Chemicals in Wastewater

An investigation finds that only a fraction of hazardous wastewater pollutants are regulated, and of those, only a handful are monitored.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that EPA is failing in its oversight of industrial chemical releases from sewage treatment plants—one of the agency’s major duties under the Clean Water Act.

EPA has not updated its list of priority wastewater chemicals since 1981, according to the OIG report. At the heart of the problem is a discrepancy between the 300 chemicals regulated under hazardous waste laws (before discharges reach the sewer) versus those regulated under the Clean Water Act (after discharges reach the sewer). The OIG report argues these two lists should be more closely aligned.

In addition, EPA does not even monitor wastewater treatment plants for the limited number of chemicals it purports to regulate, except in four states (EPA’s Region 9, in the Southwest, monitors most of the regulated chemicals). “As a result,” the report states, “sewage treatment plants may not be adequately treating wastewater entering their facilities and are at risk of discharging hazardous chemicals into receiving bodies of water such as rivers and streams.” The researchers conclude, “These hazardous chemical discharges can have detrimental effects on human health and the environment.”

EPA responded to the report by agreeing to make most of the recommended changes by September 2015.

For more information:

Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

epa.gov/oig

Published November 22, 2014

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