A coalition of 200 environmental groups warned today that toxic sediment, sludge and mud pollute every waterway in the United States as it called for a national drive to end the threat to public health.
"There is an urgent need for Congress to enact legislation that would require the cleanup and management of contaminated muds that exist in every harbor and waterway in the country," declared Phillip G. Weller, executive director of Great Lakes United.
He spoke at Buffalo State College in one of 13 sessions held today from Seattle, Wash., to Providence, R.I., announcing a new Citizens Charter that calls on federal officials to create a task force to coordinate the cleanup of the polluted sediments.
Weller said there are 27 hot spots along U.S. waters in the Great Lakes, including the Buffalo River, Niagara River, Eighteen Mile Creek in Niagara County and the Rochester embayment.
Barry Boyer of the Friends of the Buffalo River warned that toxics, industrial discharges and airborne contaminants eventually end up in water sediments.
"Contaminants in sediments have been shown to be a major source of chemicals that have caused birth defects in a variety of Great Lakes fish and wildlife," he said.
"Protecting America's water supply from these toxic muds is critical," Boyer said. "We need to clean up the sites and we also need to take steps to prevent further pollution."
The national coalition representing environmental, sportsmen, civic, labor and business groups asked Congress to provide $40 million over the next five years to fund the National Contaminated Sediments Task Force plus $25 million a year for five years to assist states in developing standards and providing enforcement. Another $3 million a year would go to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop cleanup technologies for removal, remediation and cleanup of sediments.
Local 744 of the United Auto Workers, the Citizens Alliance and the Ecumenical Task Force supported the campaign. Weller and David Miller, regional vice president of the National Audubon Society and a former Great Lakes United executive, are among authors of the charter.
Federal and state officials have been studying the Buffalo River sediments for two decades but say there is no agreement on the best way to deal with the problem. The EPA sent a sampling team last fall in another step to devise a remedial plan.
The International Joint Commission has called for cleanup of 42 U.S. and Canadian harbors, but its experts are divided on the best methods -- whether to dredge up the sludge or to cover it up in place.
The coalition urged that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is assigned the task of dredging many of the harbors, be designated to carry out the remedial programs. But it said the task force should also set standards that would prevent future contamination through limits on toxic discharges and would spell out clearly what constitutes dangerous levels of contamination in sediments.
State officials funded an intensive study of Buffalo River problems, and a proposed remedial plan is now under review by the International Joint Commission.
A second study, involving a 20-member citizens committee, is now under way on the Niagara River, and its recommendations are due in about 18 months.