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Water cleanup not so clear.

The United States has made significant progress in the cleanup of its rivers, lakes and estuaries, mostly for fishing, swimming and the propagation of aquatic life, according to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report submitted to Congress last week. However, "a number of serious problems remain to be solved," the report says, "in particular the cleanup of toxic substances in fish, sediments and water; the management of nonpoint [untrackable] sources of pollution; the protection of groundwater; and the continuing need for maintaining and improving levels of water quality and waste treatment in the face of resource shortages."

According to the report, which summarized information provided by 47 states, "significant improvements in water quality" include the fact that 73 percent of assessed river miles, 78 percent of assessed river miles, 78 percent of assessed lake acres and 82 percent of assessed estuarine and coastal waters were safe for "designated uses," primarily swimming and fishing. And these improvements, the report says, are mostly attributable to the pollution control programs instituted under the 1972 Clean Water Act. However, these controls and monitoring activities have been aimed primarily at oxygen-consuming substances, such as sewage, says Fred Leutner, deputy director of EPA's Monitoring and Data Support Division. "Our information on toxic pollutants is not as complete as we would like to have--and an improved understanding of toxics may well change some of these designations for the worse," he says. According to the report, "Information on the pervasiveness and effects of toxics on the aquatic environment is not yet complete but will improve as toxics monitoring programs are developed."

The program of inadequate monitoring was also cited in a separate study of New York's Hudson River released this week by Inform, a New York-based research group. "Files obtained from state agencies ... revealed extensive errors and inconsistencies and missing facts" about what toxic sources affect the Hudson, according to the report. From the information provided in the files, "no judgments can be made on the quantities of individual chemicals released into the Hudson, nor on whether releases have increased or decreased over the last six years," saysthe report. "Of the 555 chemical streams we identified going into the river, we were not able to quantify the amounts of toxics released for 310," says Joanna Underwood of Inform.

Inform did find that at least 771,000 pounds of oil and grease were released into the river during 1982, "making it byfar the most widely and heavily discharged pollutant."
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Author:Mathewson, Judith
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 17, 1985
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