In the latest installment of The New York Times‘ Toxic Waters series, Charles Duhigg says that, for this investigation, the Times “compiled a national database of water pollution violations that is more comprehensive than those maintained by states or the E.P.A.” (That database can be found here.)
In that database, Duhigg found serious violations across the country, from wells tainted by wet manure used to fertilize fields to seashores soiled by runoff from overwhelmed sewer systems, and discovered that while 60 percent of Clean Water Act violations were judged to be serious, only 3 percent “resulted in fines or significant punishment.”
The investigation found that agencies at every level of government had contributed to what amounts to a national failure to enforce the Clean Water Act. The causes of this failure are every bit as diverse as its manifestations, with lack of agency funding and political pressure from powerful industries being the worst culprits.
Duhigg’s story touches on points across the country, but focuses on the particularly egregious violations of West Virginia mining companies. He also details the Environmental Protection Agency’s response to the investigation, as well as its plans for correcting the systematic problems revealed by the Times‘ database.