Virginia is second-worst in the nation for toxic chemicals dumped into its waterways, according to a report released this month.

The report, “Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act,” claims 18 million pounds of toxic chemicals are released by industrial facilities into state rivers, lakes and streams annually.

Five Virginia rivers made the report’s list of 50 worst waterways in the nation, while other findings show that more than 377,000 pounds of toxic pollutants were dumped into the Shenandoah River, and 400,000 pounds were released into the Potomac River.

Now this calls for outrage. Oh Shenandoah, one of America’s most notable rivers in folk song can now shrivel your toes because it is so toxin. How have things gotten so bad?  It takes a minute to play.  O Shenandoah by the Statler Bros.

    (O Shenandoah-click here)

“Virginia’s waterways are a polluter’s paradise right now,” said Laura Anderson, field organizer with Environment Virginia. “There’s obviously something wrong if polluters are dumping 18 million pounds of toxic pollution into our waterways here in Virginia every year.”

Major findings of the report include:

* 377,090 pounds of toxic pollution were dumped into the Shenandoah River in 2010.

* 203,480 pounds of toxins were released into the Potomac River, and other states dumped additional toxic pollution for a total of 402,261 pounds in the Potomac in 2010.

* Virginia’s Upper Roanoke watershed is ranked second-worst in the nation for highest amount of total toxic discharges, with more than 12 million pounds discharged in 2010.

The report summarizes the release of a variety of chemicals, that cause cancer, birth defects and infertility, and stay in the environment for long periods of time.

The pollution in Virginia’s rivers has been a problem for a long time.  Many of the problems are decades old.  Things just don’t move downstream.   Do we see things improving?  Do we have laws in place that protect our rivers, streams and watershed areas?   What clean up efforts are underway?  Is this something that can even be cleaned up or must we handle it in other ways?

These are questions that Virginians must insist that their lawmakers address.  We have to tell our lawmakers to put away their ultra-sound wands and focus clearly on transportation, jobs, clean water and air.  Water and air don’t know boundaries.  In the next century, clean water and air are going to be major geo-political issues both nationally and globally.  Today’s stupid land use decision might very well turn into a critical environmental issue in the decades to come. 

Who will pay for all this clean up and prevention?  You and I will pay.  We will pay with our tax dollars and we will pay as municipalities.  We will pay in quality of life terms.  Where will people fish, crab, dredge oysters?  Where will people go for recreation?  What of disease, infertility, and birth defects from having UNclean water in our environment?

From Moon Howler:  A huge thank you to my friend Bear for getting the Shenandoah  song down to me so quickly.  He has one of the best music collections I have ever heard and he used to be quite a guitarist himself, back in the day. 

Tell your elected officials to prioritize clean water.  Start with our own county.

45 Thoughts to “Virginia’s Rivers Second Most Polluted in Nation”

  1. IVAN

    As a fisherman and an outdoor enthusiast, I find this both appaling and embarassing.

    1. It is embarassing. Oh Shenandoah! Your daughter has become pollution. See above for song. Yea me for figuring it out.

  2. Red Dawn

    This is the reason why I refuse to eat anything other then ocean caught fish but that seems to be gamble too.

    1. It really is a gamble. As far as ocean caught fish, if you don’t have battle fish factor boats from Russia and Jaoan, then you can worry about pollutants and oil spills. Earth stewardship seems to have taken a wrong turn now we have taken the land from the darn savages.

  3. clueless

    I have fished the Shenandoah River for the last 20 years and have never eaten any, it has been polluted for a long time.

    1. Have you caught any? I have seen signs various places that the fish have mercury.

      We stay over on the river sometimes as a family outing. You can actually see how dirty it is. That, of course, isn’t the pollutants, just the piggery of humans.

  4. clueless

    The fishing is still really good, I hope to go next month. There is pretty good fishing at the State Park as well. The warnings have been there for years, I always understood it was due to paper plants but I never researched it. It is an ambarrassment but you get what you pay for and we Virgnians pay for next to nothing at the state level.

  5. punchak

    Why do you fish if you don’t want the fish? I know that people catch fish only in order to throw them back, which doesn’t make any sense at all to me.

  6. IVAN

    If you keep all the fish you catch, there won’t be any fish left after awhile.

    The main polluter recently has been poultry farms in Shennandoah County. Most have moved out but they’ve already done their damage.

  7. Has anyone listened the O Shenandoah yet? I am so smug that I got it to work. First time ever. Usually I fail.

  8. kelly_3406

    How do we know all of this is true? Not to call the BS flag, but we have seen these single-issue advocacy groups make exaggerated claims before. Did they give any information about their sources and methods?

    1. Kelly, you are free to drink dirty water if you want. I chose not to. I guess you don’t know. Isn’t it pretty easy to test water for contaminents?

  9. marinm

    Kelly, don’t question the methodology only the results of what may be a biased group.

    1. The problem with people questioning methodology is often that they lack the science skills needed to assess it properly. It someone tells me fish contain mercury, I am not going to eat them just to prove them wrong.

  10. Red Dawn

    Kelly, I remember back in the early 70’s going to Skyline Drivefor a day trip ( Front Royal entrance ) for FUN and to fill up every empty milk jug or container we had for the spring water. As time went on, they posted a sign about contamination ( still in the 70’s -maybe early 80’s ) and then they closed it off.

    Ivan, I heard that the pollution was also from the chicken plants…in West Virgina too.

    1. I remember those springs. Are they poison now?

  11. Red Dawn

    and yes, I remember the song and the Statlin bros are from VA near Staunton, I believe?

    1. Yes, Staunton. There is even Statler Blvd there.

  12. Red Dawn

    or Roanoke…

  13. marinm


    “The problem with people questioning methodology is often that they lack the science skills needed to assess it properly.”

    So, because the author is afraid to cite his work and show how he came up with a conclusion (or cops out by saying people are too dumb to understand) we’ll just believe it on blind faith?

    What if I said my research indicates males are the superior gender and you cannot question my research methodology? Would you believe my conclusion?

    I think Kelly’s question was fairly simple. Is this group biased or not? If they are it would make a reader less inclined to believe their “research”. It’s a question that everyone should ask. Let’s not just believe everything on the internet — lets walk the dog on this and make sure it stands up to scrutiny.

  14. It was in the Gainesville Times. They don’t keep a full fleet of environmental scientists on hand to answer readers questions. I have heard about the pollution in Virginia rivers for years. I just never knew it was this serious.

    I lived in Fredericksburg for 4 years. Am I surprised the Rappanhannock is polluted? No. That paper factor there was dreadful and I think they did a lot of river dumping. That was back in the day before companies were regulated as much as they are now. That crap is still there…decades later.

    If I doubted the research I would immediately start investigating. I am more interested in why you and Kelly think we have clean rivers. Here is the question: would you let your children drink from it?

  15. marinm

    “If I doubted the research I would immediately start investigating. I am more interested in why you and Kelly think we have clean rivers. Here is the question: would you let your children drink from it?”

    It’s not. I can’t even think of asking those questions until I know the source is unbiased. I’m not asking to talk to a scientist. I’m not asking for them to water down anything. I just want to know how they came to their conclusions, how did they test and where did they do so.

    If by testing the tester urinated in the water and collected that as part of the sample – that will bias the results. If they tested water next to a pleasure boat leaking diesel that will muck up the results.

    I just want to know if it’s even worth using up my time to read their paper. I want to know if they’re real scientists and have no issue with showing how they came to their conclusion or fake scientists trying to push an agenda.

    Your answer leads me to think they’re fake and the conclusions are wrong/misleading or biased.

    1. That’s it. It is a fake newspaper article! I found it on the fake internet just to fool Kelly.

      This conversation is getting dumber and dumber.

      I repeat the question, would you let your children drink that water?

      I have nothing to justify. Its an effen article. Take it, leave it.

      If you can’t say yes, your kids can drink it, then I don’t see a conversation.

  16. Elena

    OMG! Seriously, now we are arguing about polluted water?! I wonder if Kelly and Marnim have heard of the Chesapeake Bay.

    Have you heard of the Chesapeake Bay and it’s polluted state? Do you know the EPA has specific requirments that all watershed counties must meet or fines will be levied?

    Have you ever heard this slogan “Clean up the Bay”?

    Are you sure you want to argue the science behind the pollution in our waters? What about the Potomac River? Geez, give me a break. Is there nothing some people won’t argue?

    OY VEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. Elena

    There, read this and THEN comment with some facts.

    You guys seem pretty smart, why are you so intent on sounding paronoid and fearful of some conspiracy to sell clean water.

  18. Conspiracy, Elena. Conspiracy. Where is my tin foil hat!!

    It sounds like the chief culprits are chicken crap and fertilizer run off, but what do I know. There are also a bunch of plants in there, Waynesboro, Elkton to name a few.

    I don’t understand what the argument even is. Pollutants can be tested, chemically. Why is this being treated like a hoax?

  19. marinm

    “This conversation is getting dumber and dumber.”

    I agree. A simple question of; what facts support this article should not be met with such open hostility. If the authors can’t support their scientific findings with fact its NOT science. Hell, my 1.1 GPA tells me that. Disappointed that I have to explain that.

    “I repeat the question, would you let your children drink that water?”

    There are not enough facts to entertain an answer to that question.

    “Are you sure you want to argue the science behind the pollution in our waters?”

    That’s the problem. I *want* to see the science behind this but am told I’m too dumb to understand and question this…. This is not about politics. I want to KNOW what the truth is and because this is supposed to be science there should be a black or white answer.

    I still want to know if this issue is for real and valid but everything I’ve read here leads me to believe its fake science.

  20. Elena

    Good LORD!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Read the website I posted for you and Kelly for starters!

  21. marinm

    I did. The data is over 7 years old…………………………..

  22. @marinm

    No one told you that you were too dumb. Why would you read that the Virginia rivers that have had industry on them for probably 300 years, give or take, were polluted and all of a sudden think someone was faking it.

    What’s it in for ‘them?’

    So what re the data being 7 years old. What has changed? 7 year old data is nothing has been done to fix a problem is just that–7 year old data. 2005 is hardly the dark ages.

    MY problem is that I post information and I am challenged. I left the source. Take it up with those who wrote it if you think it is bogus.

    I think automatically thinking anything scientific is bogus is paranoid.

    I lived in this state all but 4.5 years of my life. The fact that rivers are dirty is hardly a novel idea.

    Most of all, I don’t see why I am being challenged as to whether rivers are polluted or not.

  23. I said the conversation was getting dumber.

    You see the crab supply depleting in the bay and rivers, what do you think? Oysters are no longer being dregged in some areas. Fish are leaving and not returning.

    Various cancers and birth defects are cropping up in certain areas. There is more infertility and more miscarriages. This stuff is trendable. Isn’t it easier to clean things up?

  24. marinm

    Ok, two minutes of looking into the organization and I got everything that I needed.

    Thank you.

    1. Do you mind revealing what you got?

  25. Elena

    You “looked” into the organization? What does that mean?

    Did you “look” at the data? Is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation a Leftist communist organization committing the dasterdly deed of promoting clean drinking and fishing water?

    · Nearly the full length (over 1400 miles of rivers and streams) of the Shenandoah River is
    listed as impaired (polluted) by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
    Sources of impairment: fecal coliform, benthic, mercury,PCBs.
    · Nutrient pollution going into the Shenandoah River (2004 data):
    Total Nitrogen: 3.74 million lbs.
    Total Phosphorus: 526,514 lbs.
    · According to US Geological Survey data, groundwater levels of nitrate are among the
    highest in nation.
    · In April 2004, massive numbers of sunfish and smallmouth bass died in the North Fork of
    the Shenandoah River between Strasburg and Broadway in an event that has yet to be
    · This spring and summer (2005), another massive fish kill occurred along a 100mile
    stretch along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River from Island Ford downstream to
    Bentonville and beyond, killing at least 80% of the adult smallmouth population. State
    experts suspect nutrient pollution is at least partially responsible. O

    1. @Elena,

      It sounds like denial of science to me. I like to call that the “Green Cheese Club.’ You know, the moon is made of green cheese. For years after the moon walk, there was a contingency in Prince William County that insisted that it didn’t really happen and that the moon walk had been staged by NBC.

      How do you combat that kind of thinking? I have no idea.

  26. Elena

    Thank G-d for CBF! Who else if watching out for YOUR childrens safe drinking water.

  27. marinm

    They’re a lobbying group.

    1. Who is a lobbying group? So is the NRA. Do you disregard all their crap or buy in to it?

    2. What came first, the chicken or the egg?

      From Wiki:

      In 1964, a group of Baltimore businessmen, all sailors, waterfowl hunters, and fishermen, had lunch with Rogers C.B Morton, who was then a Congressman from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. They wanted his help with problems they saw looming on the Chesapeake: more boats, more people, more houses, poor sewage treatment, dirty industrial discharges.

      Morton responded by saying that they could not expect government to fix all the Bay’s problems. “There is a great need,” he said, “for a private-sector organization that can represent the best interests of the Chesapeake Bay. It should build public concern, then encourage government and private citizens to deal with these problems together.”

      The answer was not what the group had expected, but the words struck home to several of them. By 1967, the group, led by the late Arthur Sherwood, had formed and chartered the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to be that private sector voice working on behalf of the Bay. They recruited a Board of Trustees that represented a variety of interests from throughout the Chesapeake watershed. Perhaps most important, they adopted SAVE THE BAY as CBF’s motto and printed the first run of the distinctive blue-and-white bumper stickers that are now so common throughout the watershed.

      CBF’s beginnings were modest. Early in 1970, with membership at 2,000 and a staff of three, Arthur Sherwood took over as Executive Director and settled on two programs, Environmental Education and Resource Protection, with land conservation an integral part of the protection effort. Sherwood’s lifelong friend C. Trowbridge Strong took his place as Chairman of the Board.

  28. Elena

    Run and hide Moon, its a conspiracy to clean the Bay…eeeeeeekkkkkkkkk

    Screw clean drinking water and the fishing economy that comes from the bay!

  29. kelly_3406

    Actually I skimmed the report ‘Wasting our Waterways’ and found that it was just an analysis based on the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory from 2007. So there is no original or recent research being presented in the report. Virginia was ranked 2nd in 2007 due to 18.4 million pounds of toxic releases into its rivers. The interesting thing is that 14.1 million pounds of those releases were into a single river (New River; yuck!!!!) which also included emissions from NC and WVa.

    If you throw out the New River, then 4 million pounds released in the remaining rivers would move Va down to 17th or 18th place.

    This is what I meant about the possibility of exaggeration. The New River needs help, but that is probably consistent with overall poor sanitary conditions in southwestern VA in general. The rest of Virginia’s rivers are not too bad, comparatively, but of course that does not make headlines.

    1. @Kelly, Help me understand why you feel any level of pollution is acceptable. Rivers don’t have boundaries. The source isn’t important. Fixing the problem is important.

      You are trying to minimize a serious problem. What I don’t understand is why. Tell me why and perhaps we might be able to have a conversation.

      Right now, just saying polllution isn’t as bad as it was reported because it is all in one river (which I disagree with from the start.) really isn’t appeasing me.

  30. kelly_3406

    The article screamed that Virginia has the second-most polluted rivers in the country in an obvious attempt to evoke an emotional reaction. The story loses punch if it were reported that a single very dirty river gives Virginia a black eye and much of the pollution associated with that river is beyond the Old Dominion’s immediate control.

    It is certainly worth a discussion about pollution levels and how much we are willing to pay to clean up our rivers. But stories that ignore the fact that toxic releases in most of Virginia’s rivers are fairly typical compared to other states tend to obfuscate rather than elucidate the issues, which was my point in asking whether any of this is exaggerated.

    It turns out that the story does exaggerate the issue by omitting several key facts.

    1. EVer taken a creative writing class? You can say when I see your face, time stands still or your face is so ugly it would stop a clock.

      You are picking apart writing style rather than reacting to the fact that our rivers are dirty and we are close to being the Ganges. I see nothing wrong with writing to get someone’s attention. I am not particularly good at it. It isn’t my field.

      If you want people to read what you write, use colorful language. There is even a need for not boring people to death even if you are doing technical writing.

      To me, exaggeration is stretching the truth…hyperbole. Let’s discuss the real issue….that Virginia’s rivers are filthy and polluted and we don’t want to drink from them, fish, or do water sports.

      How much does it cost to clean them up? It will only get more clostly. Obviously it will have to be done in stages. How about some partnering with industry and private donations?

      I am not willing to concede that it exaggerates. Are we second or are we not second? I want to be 50th. Anything less is unacceptable.

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