Phoenix and other Valley cities have repeatedly exceeded federal water pollution levels without being penalized, according to a report released Thursday by the group Environment Arizona.
The organization studied Clean Water Act data obtained through a Freedom of Information request filed with the Environmental Protection Agency, which named companies and cities that exceeded their permitted water pollution levels in 2005.
More recent EPA statistics are not yet available.
According to the report, Phoenix released significantly higher than acceptable levels of chlorine and cyanide into the Salt River in August 2005.
Phoenix spokesman Ken Croski said city officials investigated the incident, but the source of the pollution was never found. The city was also listed in the report for dumping arsenic and solid waste into the Salt River Project canal in January 2005, a situation that Croski attributed to an “influx of dirty water” due to increased rainwater runoff.
Neither event affected the drinking water supply for the city, Croski said.
Croski said the city works with county and state officials as well as the EPA to spot pollution problems.
“Municipal takes thousands of tests,” Croski said. “If there is a way to fix them, we fix them.”
Environment Arizona spokesman Stephen Reed said he hopes the report will encourage state legislators to sponsor the Clean Water Restoration Act, a bill that would extend protections of wetlands to provisions defined by the original act. The bill currently has 172 co-sponsors in the U.S. House, including Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.
Reed also said Congress should increase funding for the EPA and make it unprofitable for industries to pollute lakes and rivers.
“Decision makers must take action and put more environmental cops on the beat,” Reed said. “This is very chilling information that will hopefully serve as a call to action.”
The Clean Water Act was passed by Congress in 1972, but according to Reed, more than 60 percent of America’s waterways do not meet standards set by the legislation. The report lists violators in every state except Oregon, where no data was available. Repeat violators have not yet been fined by the EPA or sued by private individuals, Reed said.
According to the report, more than 42 percent of industrial and city-run facilities in Arizona exceeded permitted pollution levels at some point in 2005. Although those numbers compared favorably with the national average of 57 percent, in-state facilities that registered violations averaged levels nine times over the legal limit, ranking the state third in the nation in that category.
The EPA reported 60 occasions in which Arizona facilities exceeded their pollution permits by at least 500 percent. The cities of Buckeye, Tolleson and Avondale are also singled out in the report as multiple violators.
“We’re still dumping harmful chemicals in our water,” Reed said. “It’s endangering our public health.”