Mark Prado, Marin Independent Journal, March 22, 2012
San Pablo Bay receives the highest volume of toxic discharges in the state, according to a report issued Thursday.
The report, titled “Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act,” was issued by Los Angeles-based Environment California, which analyzed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data from 2010. The group is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization.
San Pablo Bay — which stretches north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and hugs the coasts of San Rafael and Novato — ranked first among waterways in the state for highest amount of total toxic discharges.
Just over 1 million pounds of toxics, including arsenic, benzene and mercury, entered the waterway. Those toxins can cause cancer, reproductive and development problems, as well as harm wildlife, according to the report.
Suisun Bay ranked third, and the San Francisco Bay ranked 12th in the state, according to the report.
ConocoPhillips’ Rodeo refinery released most of those toxics into San Pablo Bay as part of its oil refinery process, said Sean Carroll, federal field associate with Environment California. The data are reported to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory by industries that produce certain volumes of chemicals.
“We are not saying in our report that they are exceeding laws or permits, we are just reporting the numbers,” Carroll said. “But it raises questions about pollution and what is going into the water.”
ConocoPhillips officials could not be reached for comment.
In order to curb the toxic pollution in San Pablo and other bays, Environment California recommends industrial facilities reduce their toxic discharges to waterways by switching from hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives.
It also wants to see the EPA and state agencies issue permits with numeric limits for each type of toxic pollution discharged and ratchet down those limits over time, enforcing them with penalties.
Statewide, industrial facilities dumped 2.6 million pounds of toxic chemicals into waterways, and nationwide the figure was 226 million pounds, according to the report.
“A healthy bay is essential to our economy and also our quality of life,” said Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, in a written statement. “We need a strong Clean Water Act to protect the bay and all of our waterways from toxic chemicals and pollution.”