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Louisiana ranks 4th in the nation for industrial water pollution, new report says

Mississippi River overview aerial new orleans industry
Kezia Setyawan
/
WWNO
An aerial view of barges and container ships traveling down the Mississippi River in April 2022. Industrial plants line the river banks.

Louisiana allows more toxic chemicals to enter its waterways than most of the country, landing among the top-five states in a new analysis from three national environmental advocacy groups.

In 2020, industrial facilities released more than 11 million pounds of harmful substances into state waters, the fourth highest in the nation, according to the report compiled by Environment America, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and the Frontier Group. Texas topped the list, allowing nearly 17 million pounds to be released.

Those releases were legal, permitted by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, but that doesn’t mean they don’t pose a risk to human health, argued the three national groups and Louisiana environmental advocates during a press conference in New Orleans on Wednesday. The advocates called for tighter regulation of water pollution under the Clean Water Act.

Wilma Subra LEAN riverview park
Halle Parker
/
WWNO
Louisiana Environmental Action Network scientist Wilma Subra advocates for tighter Clean Water Act regulations during a press conference on Sept. 28, 2022 in New Orleans' Butterfly Riverview Park.

The report comes just a few days before the Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on a major Clean Water Act case that could significantly limit what waterways fall under federal protection. The case, called Sackett vs. EPA, is set for Monday.

Backdropped by the Mississippi River, Environment America spokesperson Mackenzie Brown said, “Our children deserve a toxic, free future, but we continue to allow companies to use chemicals linked to a wide range of health threats.”

states water pollution chart environment america
Environment America
Louisiana tallied the fourth-highest amount of discharges into waterways in 2020 compared to other states, according to a new report by Environment America, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Frontier Group.

Most of Louisiana’s waterways are too polluted for either wildlife habitat or recreation due to sewage leaks and fertilizer runoff, though industrial pollution plays a role.

The groups’ analysis looked not only at how much was being released but also weighted those releases based on how hazardous they were to people using a tool created by the Environmental Protection Agency.

CF Industries’ massive nitrogen fertilizer plant in Donaldsonville discharged the most pollution by weight, but the releases of several other Louisiana plants were considered more toxic. Honeywell International Inc.’s Carville plant, BASF Corp.’s Geismar plant and the Denka Performance Elastomer plant in Reserve ranked among the top 20 in the country based on toxicity.

Some chemicals found in waterways can lead to reproductive health issues, interfere with the body’s development and cause cancer. The report ranked the Lake Maurepas watershed among the top-20 local watersheds in the country for exposure to all three types of pollutants.

environment america report plants water pollution chart
Environment America
Five Louisiana plants landed in the top 50 for the toxicity of their permitted discharges into state waters. This is part of a chart in the report, "Wasting our Waterways," by nonprofit Environment America. It weights the toxicity of the plants' releases in 2020 using a federal tool provided by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Louisiana Environmental Action Network scientist Wilma Subra said no concentration of chemicals exceeded the level that the Louisiana Department of Health would deem unsafe for drinking water. But she said those standards don’t take into account the cumulative effect that exposure to the chemicals present in the water could have on the body.

Subra added that immunocompromised people, infants and the elderly are also more vulnerable.

“These people should seek advice from their doctors before they drink the water out of their faucet,” she said.

Halle Parker reports on the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at hparker@wwno.org.

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