WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 8, 2009 -- Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency chief for the Obama Administration, asserted today at a forum for the PBS Frontline documentary Poisoned Waters that new legislation is needed to strengthen the EPA's authority to control pollution and protect local rivers, streams and wetlands across America.
Jackson, speaking at the National Press Club, said that court decisions had left "murkiness" about the EPA's authority to enforce some mandates of the Clean Water Act. She said EPA would seek new legislation to "clarify" its authority to take action on smaller waterways.
The two-hour documentary, to be aired on PBS on Apr. 21, shows sobering evidence of America's failure over the past 35 years to contain water contamination from agricultural waste, stormwater run-off, and now, a new wave of chemicals, known as endocrine disrupters, most of which have no safety standard set by the EPA. The danger to human health from these chemicals in the environment and in drinking water systems was underscored Dr. Robert Lawrence of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
"There are five million people being exposed to endocrine disrupters just in the mid-Atlantic region," Dr. Lawrence told Frontline Correspondent Hedrick Smith, "and yet we don't know precisely how many of them are going to develop premature breast cancer, going to have problems with reproduction, going to have all kinds of congenital anomalies of the male genitalia, things that are happening, we know they're happening, but they're happening at a broad low level so that they don't raise alarm in the general public."
In nationwide survey of water sources for urban drinking water systems, the U.S. Geological Survey has reported finding dozens of endocrine disrupters. At intakes for the Washington, DC water system on the Potomac River, USGS teams found 85 chemicals on its watch list and said two-thirds of them got through filters into the city's tap water. USGS scientists said they found similar results across the country.
EPA's Jackson told Smith that, in a break from Bush Administration policies, the Obama EPA is pushing to require pollution discharge permits from industrial-scale animal feeding operations near Chesapeake Bay and other national waterways. The purpose is to regulate contamination from excess animal waste.
Poisoned Waters shows that industrial scale chicken farms generate 1.5 billion pounds of chicken waste annually -- more than the human waste from four cities, New York, Washington, San Francisco and Atlanta, put together. Jackson said this waste problem has to be brought under regulation.
Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times reporter and Emmy Award-winning producer, expressed concern after 18 months of reporting on water pollution. "I really wonder whether or not our grandchildren or great grandchildren are going to be able live on this earth, unless we start to change things fast."
Poisoned Waters, will air on PBS Frontline, Tuesday, Apr. 21st from 9-11 PM. Check your local listings. It is a Frontline co-production with Hedrick Smith Productions.