Industrial facilities continue to dump millions of pounds of toxic chemicals into America’s rivers, streams, lakes and ocean waters each year—threatening both the environment and human health. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pollution from industrial facilities is responsible for threatening or fouling water quality in more than 14,000 miles of rivers and streams, more than 220,000 acres of lakes, ponds and estuaries nationwide.
Weather disasters kill or injure hundreds of Americans each year and cause billions of dollars in economic damage. The risks posed by some types of weather-related disasters will likely increase in a warming world. Scientists have already detected increases in extreme precipitation events and heat waves in the United States, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently concluded that global warming will likely lead to further changes in weather extremes.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which took place in March 2011, delivered a reminder to the world that nuclear power comes with inherent risks. Over a period of several days, three Japanese nuclear reactors suffered meltdowns. A large amount of radioactive material escaped into the environment over the ensuing months.
Among the risks demonstrated by the Fukushima crisis is the threat of water contamination – including contamination of drinking water supplies by radioactive material. In the wake of the Fukushima accident, drinking water sources as far as 130 miles from the plant were contaminated with radioactive iodine, prompting cities such as Tokyo to warn against consumption of the water by infants.
In the United States, 49 million Americans receive their drinking water from surface sources located within 50 miles of an active nuclear power plant – inside the boundary the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses to assess risk to food and water supplies.
Pollution continues to plague many Texas waterways, putting the health of Texans at risk. An investigation by Environment Texas’ Research and Policy Center found that some popular Texas freshwater swimming spots exceeded state or federal health standards at least once in 2010. Furthermore, our research found that the state of Texas’s health standards, testing systems, and public notification protocols are inadequate to properly protect human health, while polluted swimming holes often go unreported to the public, who may continue to swim in unsafe waters.
In recent years, Houston has emerged as a nationwide leader in expanding its production and use of clean energy. The City of Houston has adopted strong, energy-saving building codes, ramped up purchases of clean, renewable energy, and begun laying the groundwork for widespread adoption of electric cars – all steps that have jump-started the area’s transition toward a clean energy economy.
Environment Texas Research and Policy Center is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.