LOS ANGELES (March 13, 2007) -- With airborne pollution increasingly recognized as a significant cause of water quality problems, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is filing a petition with the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board today, requesting that it immediately investigate, and ultimately reduce, toxic air pollution spewing from major facilities in the Los Angeles Basin.
Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows that millions of pounds of lead, mercury, copper, zinc, sulfuric acid, ammonia and other pollutants are being discharged into the air in the Los Angeles region every year. NRDC research shows that over 100 polluted rivers, lakes, and ocean waters in the area are officially listed as contaminated by those pollutants.
“Air polluters don’t just degrade the air we breathe, they are fouling our rivers, streams, and coastal ocean waters,” said David Beckman, senior attorney with NRDC and head of its Coastal Water Quality Program. “It is time for the Regional Water Board to exercise its authority and confront a major pollution problem that has slipped through the regulatory cracks.”
Airborne pollution of water bodies – technically called atmospheric deposition – happens when air-carried pollutants settle directly onto the water, or reach it after being washed-off from land during storms. In one study in the Los Angeles area, airborne pollution was found to be a significant contributor to the overall pollution of Santa Monica Bay, particularly for lead (99 percent), chromium (50 percent), zinc (43 percent), copper (24 percent), and nickel (13 percent). In addition, the concentrations of chromium, copper, lead, iron, and zinc were all uniformly higher near the shoreline than offshore.
Among the harmful effects of aerial pollution are the acidification of streams and lakes, the toxic contamination of fish and birds, and the increased risks to people’s health caused by exposure to harmful substances such as lead and mercury.
To stress the relationship between airborne pollution and fouling of regional waters, NRDC’s petition correlates water bodies officially listed as “impaired” under the Federal Clean Water Act with the top ten aerial sources of pollutants in the same region. It lists, for example, 28 local waters contaminated with ammonia and the top ten sources of ammonia air emissions in the area, which collectively discharge over 2.8 million pounds of the pollutant annually in Los Angeles.
“The Clean Water Act states that all sources of pollution contributing to the degradation of a watershed, including airborne pollution, must be identified,” said Michelle Mehta, NRDC project attorney.
The novel legal approach being used by NRDC may prompt the Regional Water Board to identify and reduce sources of air pollution to water bodies, along with the traditional sources of water pollution. It may even force the South Coast Air Quality Management District to regulate air emissions that pollute water bodies, something it has been unwilling to tackle even though it has the authority to do so.