Stream formation and

  River drainage
  The greatest American

  Adverse effects of coal

  Siltation of streams
  Polluting our rivers
  This isn't chicken salad
  Clean Water Act
  State water protection
  Valley fills
  Scenic streams

Polluting our Rivers
   Small rivers in peril.  Scenic small rivers can suffer from pollution other than from coal mining, timbering, and chemical industries. Blackwater River in scenic Tucker County receives an increasing amount of pollution from tourist facilities. The effect is a lowered oxygen level in the stream. In August 2001 the Federation of Fly Fishers named the Blackwater as one of the four most endangered fisheries in the nation.

    Once upon a time. In the first part of the twentieth century the Ohio River was a shallow, free-flowing river. Later on, dams -- built by the Corps of Engineers to supply industries with a continuous supply of water -- converted the mighty Ohio into a series of slow-moving lakes. Wildlife disappeared and sedimentation from and use practices, along with industrial pollutants, affected wildlife habitat and water quality.  

     In November 2000 Congress approved $307,000,000 to restore the Ohio River's ecosystem. A 15-year plan will start with demonstration projects and aims for building new dikes and new islands, reforesting bottom land, and dredging backwaters. New clean-up technologies may come from Marshall University's Center for Environmental, Geotechnical and Applied Sciences.

     Three major rivers. Industries located along three major rivers - Ohio, Kanawha, and Monongahela - have polluted these rivers for many decades. And for decades, specifically concerning the Ohio River, federal governmental efforts (EPA) combined with an interstate commission, ORSANCO, have helped clean up some of the worst abuses.

          Toxics. Yet, levels of harmful water pollutants are unacceptable. Waste dumps along the Kanawha River near our capital city are our toxic heritage. In the case of the notorious chemical, dioxin, both the Kanawha River and the Ohio River have some chemical hot spots. In the mid-1990s dioxin levels became a significant wedge issue, a political hot button in West Virginia, undermining support for the proposed Mason County pulp mill. The pulp mill project is dead after a long fight by OVEC and many West Virginians.

      A June 2000 a federal EPA study concluded that dioxin can cause cancer in humans. In July 1999 and June 2000, the EPA proposed a plan for eliminating most of the dioxin leaching into the Kanawha River from groundwater and soil and for limiting the dioxin released by contaminated sediment on the river bottom.  See http://www.epa.gov/... EPA sampling, in accord with a federal court's TMDL order, occurred in 2001. TMDLs are discussed in the topic "Clean Water Act."

     The affected Kanawha River section stretches 45 miles from where the Coal River meets the Kanawha to the Kanawha's confluence with the Ohio River. It includes four tributaries -- Pocatalico River, Armour Creek, Heizer Creek, and Manila Creek. Superfund cleanup may occur. OVEC is active on this topic of concern. A fish-consumption advisory has been in effect since the late 1980s.

     In August 2000 a lawsuit was filed in Putnam County Circuit Court by a Manila Creek resident, as a representative of a class of residents, against Monsanto Co. and others. Monsanto had produced the herbicide "Agent Orange" (2,4,5-T) at its Nitro plant. Dioxin was a tar-like contaminant resulting from the batch process.

     Solution-seekers. ORSANCO (Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Compact) includes these member states:  Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia).  [W. Va. Code sec. 22C-12-1 et. seq.].   Another interstate commission, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, has members from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, District of Columbia, and West Virginia.  [W.Va. Code sec. 22C-11-1 et. seq.].

     Data and reports. Information on pollution discharge of toxic substances into waters such as the Ohio River is gathered by the the EPA through its Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) program.  Annual reports by pollution emitters are required to be submitted to the EPA by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).  [42 U.S. Code sec11001 et. seq.].  To access West Virginia's DEP's TRI data click on  http://www.dep.state.wv.us/...

      In September 1998 the U. S. Public Interest Group issued a report based upon EPA's data.  It showed that West Virginia waters, from 1992 through 1996, received 23.4 million pounds of toxic chemicals, making the state ninth in the nation, a disturbing distinction

      In that time period the Ohio River was the recipient of 19.2 million pounds of toxic chemicals, 14.84 million pounds of which came from the Bayer Corporation plant near New Martinsville.  Other major toxic chemical emitters in the report are Weirton Steel Corp. (Weirton),  Cytec Industries (Willow Island), DuPont Co. (Belle), Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel (Follansbee), GE Corp. (Washington), Clearon Corp. (South Charleston), Howes Leather Co. (Frank), Shell Chemical Co. (Apple Grove), and Kanawha River Terminals, Inc. (Ceredo). 

      The Kanawha River was the state's second largest recipient of 1.7 million pounds of toxic chemicals and the Greenbrier River was third with 300,000 pounds.  The report is not inclusive of  all chemicals discharged into the state's rivers.

     A different annual index of emissions of toxic pollutants into the air, land, and water is the Scorecard kept by the Charleston-based National Institute for Chemical Studies (NICS) since 1987.  During the 1987 - 1997 period for West Virginia total releases of into the air, land, and water have dropped by 64 percent.

     The 1996 Scorecard shows a drop of 12 percent in emissions of a core group of chemicals NICS follows. The top ten toxic polluters in the Scorecard in West Virginia for 1996 were Shell Chemical Co. (Apple Grove)[however its output was grossly distorted by a required but distorted reporting technique], Bayer Corp. (New Martinsville), OSI Specialties (Sistersville), Weirton Steel Sorp. (Weirton), Union Carbide Corp. (Institute), DuPont Washington Works (Washington), DuPont Belle plant (Belle), Union Carbide Corp. (South Charleston), American Woodwork Corp. (Moorefield),  and BASF Corp. (Huntington).

      The NICS 1996 Scorecard shows a 7 percent drop in release of monitored chemicals in the Kanawha Valley since 1995.  The top toxic chemical emitters in the Kanawha Valleyfor 1996 were located in Belle, Institute, Nitro, and South Charleston. The top chemicals released into the air, land, and water, with the largest emitter in parentheses, were toluene  (Rhone-Poulenc; 523,387 pounds), nitrate compounds (DuPont Belle; 428,392 pounds); hydrochloric acid (Union Carbide, South Charleston; 286,520 pounds); methanol (DuPont Belle; 127,631 pounds); and ammonia (Clearon; 102,456 pounds).

      Successes. The federal Clean Water Act has been successful in limiting harmful discharges into rivers from industrial plants and from city sewers. Such successes are measured by gradual improvements in levels of monitored pollutants. It is important to applaud our successes.  Across this great land, since enactment of the Clean Water Act, twenty to thirty percent of once-polluted rivers have become suitable for fishing and swimming.

     Shortfalls. Notwithstaning these successes, an August 2001 report by EPA's Inspector General concluded that states are doing a poor job of monitoring and punishing water polluters. Criticism was directed specifically at non-point source pollution.

     Non-point sources. In the early 1970s legislators of the day did not envision the types and amounts of pollutants Americans now face:  pesticides, herbicides, bacteria, silt, and oxygen-depleting substances.  These largely originate from non-point sources not described in the Clean Water Act -- rural farm fields, logging camps, and urban streets.  Until the mid-1990s only modest attention was given to this ever-increasing problem. Voluntary, non-regulated best management practices are the norm. Information about non-point sources can be found at http://www.epa.gov/... 

      In August 1999 EPA proposed ambitious rules that would require states to submit plans, within 15 years, to clean up every waterway that fails to meet water quality standards. The proposal is aimed at indirect pollution sources such as farmers, loggers, and parking lots, which produce water runoff. West Virginia is the home of one major non-point polluter in the eastern panhandle.[See"This isn't chicken salad" in this web site.]. In July 2000 President Clinton ordered EPA to complete the rules before a congressional rider forbidding issuance of new non-point source rules became law.

Last updated on Tuesday, September 4, 2001