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Communities pay to clean up contaminated tap water;
Watchdog groups cite lack of leadership from Governor Taft and Ohio EPA
 

For Release: September 13, 1999

Contact:
Amy Ryder, (216) 861-5200
Jane Houlihan, (202) 667-6982

Communities across Ohio are paying to clean their drinking water of industrial waste contamination with no help from the companies responsible. Failure to enforce the law by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is costing communities thousands, and in some cases millions, of dollars. A new report, Polluter Privilege, from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Ohio Citizen Action found examples of at least 54 public water supplies polluted with industrial chemicals. In at least ten, polluters were identified and still in business, but have not paid for the clean-up. EWG identified only three cases for which the State of Ohio has held the polluter financially accountable for the clean-up costs.

The report was released today along with a previously unpublished Ohio EPA document showing the depth of the tap water contamination. The release of the two reports coincides with the unveiling of a new statewide billboard campaign aimed at getting Governor Taftís attention focused on environmental and public health issues.

The billboards, which read, "Toxics in Ohio's tap water -- Governor Taft, Are you paying attention?" have been posted in Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. They list Ohio Citizen Actionís website for more information.

"There simply is no environmental cop on the beat at the Ohio EPA," said Amy Ryder, Cleveland Director for Ohio Citizen Action. "We are asking the Governor and his Ohio EPA appointees to overhaul the agency and exercise the political will to enforce the laws. Right now, polluters take advantage of Ohio EPAís weak negotiating position and citizens pay the bill."

The Ohio EPA report was compiled by its Division of Emergency and Remedial Response (DERR) in 1998 at the request of then-Representative Joy Padgett. The Ohio EPA document, last updated in November of 1998, upholds the consumer groupsí view that the water contamination is widespread. EWGís analysis of this report, state data, and additional information obtained from state regulators and public water suppliers, showed the extent to which industry gets off the hook in Ohio.

According to EWG, almost all of the 54 public water supplies in question have been contaminated by industrial solvents that are known or suspected to cause cancer, birth defects, nervous system disorders and a host of other health problems.

Cleaning up the problems is not cheap. The City of Dayton has spent millions of dollars to treat its tap water supply, stripping industrial contaminants from as many as five industries. Other cities have spent over a $1 million to test and treat their water while the polluters contribute nothing.

"In every case that the Environmental Working Group investigated, water suppliers are taking the necessary steps to ensure their tap water meets legal standards to protect human health," said Jane Houlihan, author of the report. "Why, though, should consumers underwrite pollution clean-up, and why isnít the State of Ohio doing something about it?"

Amy Ryder said, "Citizens have the right to know about pollutants in their drinking water. Every company that pollutes a drinking water source should be named in the consumer confidence reports which communities are required to send to their customers each year, beginning this October."

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Coverage by Akron Beacon Journal, Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, Dayton Daily News, Cincinnati Post.