NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Getting Away With Sludge In The Nation's Capital

September 4, 2002

In direct violation of the Clean Water Act, the Army Corps of Engineers is dumping thousands of tons of chemically-treated sludge into the Potomac River each year. And it is doing it on the sly, observers report. It's a shocking case, observers say, of the nation's powerful being happy to insist others obey burdensome environmental rules while they ignore them.

Here's the story:

  • In the process of purifying drinking water for about a million D.C. residents, a facility called the Washington Aqueduct is left with the toxic sludge and the problem of disposing of it.
  • So it calls upon the Environmental Protection Agency to issue special discharge permits, which the EPA readily does -- although no other city in the nation, aside from a few special-circumstances cases in the Midwest, is allowed to do the same.
  • The Corps has admitted to dumping as much as 241,500 milligrams per liter of suspended solids into the Potomac -- even though the maximum allowed limit for most states is around 30.
  • The sludge contains arsenic, lead and mercury far in excess of legal limits.

Caught in such an embarrassing situation, officials from the Corps and the EPA actually argued that the sludge helps the Potomac. A recent House probe disclosed an EPA document which claimed that the dumping actually protects endangered fish -- by forcing them to flee polluted areas and escape fishermen.

The Wilderness Institute has filed lawsuits claiming the procedures violate both the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.

Source: Editorial, "Potomac Sludge," Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2002.

 

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