The annual study, which tracks releases to air, land and water, shows a corresponding increase in chemicals discharged to the Savannah River, which ranked fourth in the nation among waterways that receive the largest waste volumes.
The total of all releases increased from 10.88 million pounds in 2009 to 13.98 million pounds in 2010, the most recent year for which complete figures are available. The EPA expects to release its 2011 totals in late December.
Historically, Augusta’s largest polluters have tended to be the largest industries, with No. 1 emitter DSM Chemicals North America reporting the 2010 release of 5,850,325 pounds of chemicals that included nitrates, cyclohexane, ammonia and toluene. The 2010 figure was more than double the 2009 release of 2,895,359 pounds.
PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer reported the release of 4,932,127 pounds in 2010, reflecting a decrease from the 5,514,756 pounds released during 2009.
Ranking third was another major industry, International Paper, which reported 2,829,221 pounds of ammonia, hydrochloric acid, methanol and other compounds. The company’s 2009 releases totaled 2,175,876 pounds.
All the releases are authorized under state and federal regulatory permits issued to industries that provide jobs and tax revenues.
In a related study released last week as part of the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Clean Water Act, the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center said the Savannah River trails only three other waterways – the Ohio, Mississippi and North Carolina’s New River – in the volume of chemicals it absorbs. One of the main compounds released into the Savannah is nitrates, a common fertilizer ingredient.
According to the study, nitrates are among the leading nationwide sources of nutrient pollution that can fuel the growth of algal blooms. As the algae decay, decomposition can cause the depletion of oxygen levels in the waterway, the study said.
Oxygen levels have become a perennial issue in the complex management program associated with the Savannah River, which is governed by both Georgia and South Carolina, with coastal regions overseen by the EPA. The EPA is in the final stages of implementing regulatory changes in Augusta designed to resolve low oxygen levels in Savannah Harbor 180 miles downstream.