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April 20, 2000 - LAREDO FOULS ITS OWN DRINKING WATER

Regulators Allow "Mountain of Sludge" to Drain into Endangered Rio Grande River



Austin...Pollution from Texas facilities has contaminated the stretch of the Rio Grande River which the City of Laredo relies upon for its drinking water, according to documents released today by Texas Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Texas PEER). Dangerous levels of heavy metals and other toxics have contaminated the river water and made the fish unfit to eat.

The Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC), the state's pollution control agency, has yet to step up inspections or take concerted enforcement action or promulgate public health protections despite

* the discovery by city officials of a "mountain of sludge" draining into a river channel. Included in the mess where containers for muriatic acid, a potent chemical used to clean air conditioners;

* studies showing arsenic levels in river fish more than 11 times higher than federal limits, as well as dangerous levels of copper, zinc and mercury in fish tissue; and

* the fact that TNRCC has known about conditions in that portion of the Rio Grande since a 1994 agency study. Nonetheless, TNRCC is still saying more studies are needed before it can act.

The Rio Grande is already classified as one of the top ten endangered rivers in the U.S. by the conservation group American Rivers. The studies by TNRCC show the greater threat to the Rio Grande comes from industrial pollution by Texas facilities rather than raw sewage from Mexico, as has been often alleged.

"Texas has developed the pollution profile of a Third World country," commented Texas PEER Coordinator Erin Rogers. "The fact that state regulators can blithely ignore public health emergencies is a sure indication that the situation in Laredo is far from unique."

Texas PEER is an alliance of employees working within the state resource agencies, such as the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), to promote professional ethics, ensure government accountability and protect public health and the environment.





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