Industrial Storm Water: A Major Source of Bay Pollution

Every rainy season, between twenty and forty inches of rain washes toxic contamination off more than 1,300 industrial facilities around San Francisco Bay. Facilities like scrap metal yards, boat and ship yards, trucking terminals, landfills, refineries, mines and semiconductor manufacturers regularly discharge toxic runoff into the Bay, and into rivers, creeks, sloughs and storm drains that flow through our communities and into the Bay.

San Francisco Baykeeper launched our Bay-Safe Industry campaign to rein in widespread illegal industrial runoff pollution.

Industrial Storm Water Pollution is Not Being Controlled

Baykeeper recently analyzed five years worth of records of industrial storm water pollution and determined that 95% of Bay Area industrial facilities have violated the Clean Water Act in recent years. Yet underfunded California regulatory agencies annually inspect and require improvements at fewer than 5% of all industrial facilities in the region.

In addition, the existing regulations intended to control industrial storm water pollution aren’t adequately limiting this pollution.

Industrial Storm Water Pollution Harms the Bay and its Wildlife

Contamination that washes off industrial facilities includes copper, zinc, lead and petrochemicals, which place a heavy burden on the health of Bay wildlife:

  • Fish collected in the Bay’s industrialized areas have abnormally low levels of hormones necessary for growth and survival.
  • Salmon exposed to copper pollution lose their sense of smell, causing an inability to find their spawning streams or detect predators.
  • Oil and grease are toxic to the hearts of fish.
  • High concentrations of nickel are lethal to shorebirds.
  • Animals who eat fish contaminated with PCBs can suffer liver failure and death.
  • Mercury accumulates in the tissues of animals in San Francisco Bay; people who eat fish caught in the Bay risk brain disorders and kidney failure.

Baykeeper’s Strategies to Control Industrial Storm Water Pollution

San Francisco Baykeeper’s Bay-Safe Industry campaign is working to reduce toxic industrial runoff pollution in several ways:

  • Documenting the scope of industrial storm water pollution. Baykeeper is researching new sources of data on industrial storm water pollution and analyzing this data to uncover consistent sources of contamination and loopholes in regulations. We will continue to examine the data and publish our results demonstrating the extent of industrial storm water pollution in San Francisco Bay.
  • Conducting education and outreach to industrial facilities. We are helping educate industrial facilities on how to clean up their contamination of San Francisco Bay. Read more about Baykeeper’s outreach and education to clean up industrial runoff pollution.
  • Advocating for stronger pollution enforcement and controls on toxic runoff. Baykeeper is advocating for tighter regulations and stricter discharge permits to protect San Francisco Bay from industrial storm water pollution. Read more about Baykeeper’s advocacy for stronger controls on industrial storm water pollution.
  • Compelling industrial polluters to stop contamination. The federal Clean Water Act encourages citizen groups to step in and sue polluters when regulators are not controlling pollution. Baykeeper is investigating industrial violations of the Clean Water Act, suing polluters and winning settlements that require facilities to employ runoff pollution control measures. Read more about Baykeeper’s successful legal settlements to curb industrial runoff pollution.

Containing Industrial Storm Water Pollution Will Help Restore the Bay

Toxic industrial runoff is a major source of contamination in San Francisco Bay. Curbing this pollution is a crucial step toward restoring the Bay—so that wildlife can flourish and surfers, swimmers, kiters, boaters, and hikers can enjoy safe, healthy waters and shorelines.