Rock is State’s Second Most Polluted River

Rockford Register Star Newspaper Online – rrstar.com – October 21, 2009

The Rock River is the dumping ground for more toxic chemicals from industry than all bu one river in the state, but the main source of its pollution come nearly 100 miles downriver from here. According to a new report from Environment Illinois released today, about 3 million pounds of toxic chemicals were released into the Rock River in 2007. The biggest source of the pollution is Tyson Fresh Meats in Hillsdale, just outside the Quad Cities. It released all but 918 pounds of the Rock River’s pollution from Illinois, according to the report.

Upstream from Rockford, the biggest polluters are the Alto Dairy Cooperative in Waupun, Wis. The facility released about 690,000 pounds of pollution into the river in 2007.

Max Muller, program director for Environment Illinois, said the data show companies use Illinois’ waterways as trash cans for their toxic chemicals. “there are common-sense steps that should be taken to turn the tide against toxic pollution of our waters,” said Muller. “Wee need clean water now, and we need the state and federal governments to act to protect our health and out environment.”

The group is advocating three measures to improve Illinois waterways: the reduction of industrial discharge into waterways by switching from hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives; tougher permitting limits and enforcement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and adoption of the Clean Water Act to all waterways, including headwaters and small streams, which fall into a gray area of enforcement.

Although the Rock has high levels of chemical discharge, the waterways through the Rockford region are relatively clean, said Chuck Cowley, water pollution regional manager for the Illinois EPA. “It’s important information for people to know, but it’s certainly not an indication that there’s some sort of hazard,” he said. “the Rock River, Kishwaukee River and its tributaries support a very good fish population. That would not necessary follow if there’s something wrong with the Rock River. Just like any water body, there’s always room for improvement.”

Environment Illinois’ report uses data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory, which requires industrial facilities to release information about their discharges of a specific set of toxic chemicals. In 2007, the year examined in the Environment Illinois report, those facilities reported the release of 244 toxic chemicals or classes of pollution into American waterways, totaling 232 million pounds. Five Winnebago County companies reported toxic discharges into the Rock River, collectively accounting for 802 pounds of discharge. The largest source of pollution was the now-defunct Sonoco Products in Rockton, which released 750 pounds of nitrate compounds and about 8.75 pounds of lead.

The EPA does not require some polluters, including waste water-treatment plants and some agriculture facilities, to report their findings to the Toxic Release Inventory. Also, the data do not include all chemical discharges, just those from a specific set of chemicals.

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