Contact Us


All News Releases By Date


Anacostia Watershed Chemical Contaminants Detailed U.S. Navy Research Vessel Joins Cleanup Effort

Release Date: 7/19/2000
Contact Information: Donna M. Heron, 215-814-5113

Donna M. Heron, 215-814-5113

WASHINGTON – The first comprehensive analysis of the chemical pollution of the Anacostia Watershed was released today, revealing a long list of toxics that threaten both the people who reside along the river and the organisms that live there.

The 200-page report details dozens of chemical contaminants found in the Anacostia River and its sediments. While a number of individual studies have been conducted in the past, the report issued today marks the first time the entire watershed has been evaluated. Released by the Anacostia Watershed Toxics Alliance, a public-private group formed last year, the report summarizes all existing research data on the watershed. Pollutants ranging from arsenic to zinc have been detected, and sources ranging from auto emissions to pesticides and power plants have been identified. A number of the pollutants are known human carcinogens.

A health advisory, warning residents not to eat fish caught in the river, has been in effect for several years.

While the new report provides the best characterization of the river to date, it also points out a number of areas where additional data are needed. The report’s sponsors are now collecting additional information to help better understand the pollution problem so that scientists and engineers can develop effective cleanup strategies.

“From the Washington Navy Yard and Southeast Federal Center to scores of smaller facilities throughout the watershed, we have made major strides in cleaning up the Anacostia in recent years,” said EPA Regional Administrator Bradley M. Campbell. “But the study being released today underscores the magnitude of the work we still need to do to revitalize and restore this important resource,” he added.

Today the Alliance also highlighted the work of the U.S. Navy’s one-of-a-kind research vessel, the R/V Ecos. The 40-foot craft has been brought to the Anacostia River from its berth in San Diego to perform sophisticated analysis of the chemical contaminants and the dynamics of the river. The ship will be conducting its research through next week.

The Alliance, which is funding the new round of research, will focus on gaining a more complete picture of watershed pollution and understanding how pollutants are influenced by tides and currents. According to the Alliance, concentration levels of contaminants including dioxins and PCBs in sediment and surface water will be assessed this year and a detailed historical and geographic assessment of all industrial, government, military and research facilities in the watershed will be conducted.

One of the missing pieces of existing data is contaminant migration throughout the watershed. Understanding the dynamic movement of the river is important to understand how contamination moves around the river, according to the Alliance members. This is essential information because natural current could transport chemical contaminants back to a spot that has already been cleaned up.

Historically, many industries were based along the banks of the Anacostia River. Over the years, hazardous substances from these industries and other human activities were discharged directly into the river or were washed into the river by rain. The watershed also has experienced substantial deforestation and agricultural development, intense and continuous urbanization, industrial development and significant loss of wetlands and marshes.

This unprecedented study, the use of the Navy’s most sophisticated research vessel, and the on-going cleanup efforts are part of a major initiative. “No watershed in the mid-Atlantic is receiving more attention than the Anacostia,” according to Campbell. “All of the members of the Alliance are fully committed to this effort: conducting sound scientific research, accelerating cleanups, providing aggressive enforcement of our anti-pollution laws, providing timely and complete information to the community, and working to prevent pollution in the future are all part of this comprehensive effort,” Campbell concluded.

AWTA members includes: Academy of Natural Sciences-Patrick Center, D.C. Department of Health, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Maryland Department of Environment, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, National Park Service, Naval Research Lab, PEPCo, Prince George’s County, U.S. Air Force-Bolling Air Force Base, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environment Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. General Services Administration, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. U.S. Navy-Naval District Washington, University of the District of Columbia, Washington Gas, Washington Area Water and Sewer Authority, and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.