- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

Two Republican members of Congress yesterday introduced legislation that would impose strict limits on the amounts of toxic metals and chemicals that can be dumped into the Potomac River.

Sen. George Allen of Virginia and Rep. George P. Radanovich of California introduced separate bills in the House and Senate that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing open permits to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dump thousands of tons of chemically treated sludge into the Potomac.

"We put these bills forward out of fear that the EPA may try to permit [unrestricted dumping] again," Mr. Radanovich said.

The Washington Times first reported in March that the EPA was continuing to issue permits to allow the dumping of tons of sludge into the Potomac, despite scientific reviews that say the dumps endanger wildlife and should be stopped immediately.

Mr. Allen and Mr. Radanovich will hold a news conference today at 11 a.m. in Room 332 of the Russell Senate Office Building to discuss the legislation and the harmful effects of the dumping in the Potomac.

Mr. Radanovich said he has been battling the EPA and Army Corps for almost three years to stop the dumping of toxic sludge into waters flowing through the C&O Canal National Historic Park in the District. He said the bills are the culmination of that fight.

Mr. Allen said his bill emerged from his long-standing efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

"One way to do this is to clean the tributaries and the main tributary for the Bay is the Potomac River," said Mr. Allen, a former Virginia governor. "It is clear that the D.C. water treatment plants are the only ones on the East Coast allowed to dump toxic materials into our waterways at these levels and in this fashion."

His two-page bill would prohibit the EPA administrator from renewing or issuing permits for sludge discharges of more than three times the national average of pollutants permitted. The EPA currently allows sludge discharges of more than 1,000 times the national average.

Mr. Allen's bill specifies that the restriction would be placed on "any portion of the Potomac River that flows through land under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service."

"The rates [of metals and chemicals] being discharged at the Washington Aqueduct are as much as 45,000 milligrams per liter. Most water treatment plants allow about 30 to 60 milligrams per liter," said Allen spokesman Matt Raymond.

Rob Gordon, a scientist with the National Wilderness Institute, an environmental group that has been working for 10 years to have the dumping stopped, said the proposed legislation is "long overdue."

"It is indefensible that the EPA has allowed this facility to continue dumping for nearly a decade now," Mr. Gordon said.

The Army Corps permit from the EPA expired in 1993, Mr. Gordon said, but since the corps applied for a new permit before the old one expired, "they were allowed to continue dumping under an administrative extension with virtually no restrictions or enforced testing of the sludge."

He said his group has obtained numerous documents from the Corps indicating the sludge being dumped at three sites of the Washington Aqueduct contains lead, mercury, chromium, arsenic and other toxic metals.

Water treatment facilities routinely use metals and chemicals to filter drinking water. Over time the chemicals collect in thick clumps on the bottom of filtration pools and must be cleaned out. This residual muck is what is being discharged into the Potomac nearly three times a year at each of the three locations.

The dumping was first reported almost three years ago in The Times, which has done a series of reports since then on the Army Corps' practice of flushing thousands of tons of chemically treated sludge into the river from three sites two near Fletcher's Boat House in Northwest including the Washington Aqueduct.

The Times reported in June that the National Wilderness Institute filed a federal law suit aimed at stopping the corps from dumping chemically treated sludge into the Potomac. That was the second lawsuit NWI had filed against the federal government.

In a separate suit, the group asked the courts to require the government to enforce the Endangered Species Act.

One of the three locations where the sludge is being dumped is a prime spawning ground for the short-nosed sturgeon and other endangered species found in the Potomac.

Mr. Radanovich said the National Marine Fisheries Service and the EPA entered into conversation for the first time "no more than two or three months ago" to protect the fish.

"The short-nosed sturgeon has been on the endangered species list since the 1970s. Where have they been for the past 20 years?" he said.

Gary Baise, vice chairman of the Virginia State Water Control Board, said the panel voted unanimously yesterday to investigate the discharges. He said the Department of Environmental Quality will send a letter to the EPA notifying the agency of the investigation.

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