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The Lake Tai incident was not an anomaly. Following the algae crisis, the Wuxi government passed a rule incorporating water quality monitoring and management into the cadre evaluation system. This simple change led to the creation of a river chief system in which local leaders could be demoted or lose their jobs if they did not monitor and maintain the water quality in their assigned river basin segment.

Within a year, the Wuxi river chiefs made drastic water quality improvements, with rivers and lakes hitting a 71 percent water quality compliance rate. Fast forward to Today the river chief system flows through the bureaucracies at all levels and has sparked top-down and bottom-up partnerships with NGOs and companies.

It could be a gamechanger for better accountability and cleaner rivers. Known to locals in Gansu Province as the Mother River, the Yellow River, that flows through provincial capital Lanzhou has often been unsafe to drink. Together they cracked down on factories and waste companies that were dumping contaminants and construction waste into the Xigu River segment that supplies drinking water for the capital.

The river chiefs with Green Camel Bell also advocated for artificial wetlands along the river that are helping to buffer and filter the drinking water sources, bringing it back to potable water quality. In June , the NGO Green Hunan helped to catalyze an exceptional example of a citizen waterkeeper and river chief partnership in Xiangtan city.

Sun Cheng , the research director from Green Hunan, explained that they worked with the Xiangtan mayor to develop a strong monitoring system that links to the municipal-level river chief. When citizen waterkeepers in Xiangtan identify a pollution problem, they report it directly to a district river chief. If the waterkeepers find the problem is significant, they can then report up to the city river chief, who oversees all the district chiefs.

Initially, the waterkeepers worried the river chief system would not permit citizen participation. However, Sun Cheng said that the river chiefs in Hunan now realize that citizen waterkeepers can serve as additional eyes and ears to help them more quickly discover and solve pollution problems. Some Chinese corporations are also getting involved to help the river chiefs in their area. Green Hunan helped a small business investment company called Legally, POTWs may emit certain quantities and kinds of pollutants to waterways following treatment.

This does not mean, however, that those emissions have no adverse ecological or public health impacts, or that those emissions cannot also be employed as examples of green crimes or green-state crimes. Indeed, from the perspective of environmental sociology and ecological Marxism, those emissions generate ecological disorganization.

Moreover, POTW emissions contain numerous pollutants that generate different forms of ecological disorganization. To contextualize the meaning of those data, we review US water pollution regulations, review the health and ecological impacts of chemicals emitted by POTWs, and situate those emissions within green criminological discussions of green crime and green-state crimes. Green criminologists have long referred to water pollution as a general example of a green crime South, Despite those references, green criminologists have devoted little attention to the study of water pollution and its consequences for example, Lynch and Stretesky, ; McClanahan, ; Johnson et al.

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Other disciplines have paid significantly more attention to detailing the extent and control of water pollution problems. By the early s, agricultural engineers had already employed geographic information system software to analyse the effects of nonpoint sources of pollution on water quality Tim et al. Environmental scientists have used complex residual variable models to estimate violations of water quality standards Borsuk et al. Agricultural economists have modelled factors that affect the punishment of water pollution violators Oljaca et al.

Given this literature outside of green criminology, it is rather surprising that green criminologists have not paid greater attention to exploring water pollution related harms as examples of green crime and injustice. POTW water pollution has not been widely described even in literatures outside of criminology. Despite treatment, emissions from POTWs include numerous pollutants. While many of those pollutants are legally allowable, they nevertheless pose ecological and human health concerns, indicating that applicable regulations may not be stringent enough to protect eco-system and public health, and that those emissions contribute to ecological disorganization Lynch et al.

In that context, we argue that POTW emissions can also be examined as examples of green crime, and more specifically as green-state crimes. To contextualize those data and the analysis of water pollution, we review relevant laws regulating POTW water pollution in the USA, the health and ecological consequences associated with POTW emissions, and conceptualize POTW emissions as green and green-state crimes that promote ecological disorganization.

Green criminologists have posed numerous definitions of green crime that expand beyond the scope of the law to identify behaviours that cause ecological, nonhuman species or human health harms as green crimes for example, Lynch, ; Beirne and South, ; White, ; Brisman and South, Since POTW emissions can include legally allowable yet harmful pollutants, it is necessary to look beyond the law to conceptualize those emissions as green crimes.

That approach also situates this conceptualization of green crime within a long tradition of state crime research within criminology for example, Michalowski and Kramer, ; Rothe, ; Chambliss et al. Building on those observations, the present study draws attention to the types and quantity of water pollution emitted by POTWs as representing an area of research where the concepts of state crime and green crime intersect one another.

Drawing on research in environmental sociology and ecological Marxism, and situating the analysis of green crime and justice within a political economic approach, green criminologists have argued that green crime and injustice involve behaviours that generate ecological disorganization —or as conditions that disrupt and damage ecosystems and their functions Lynch et al.

Ecological disorganization can occur in various ways.

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In the present study, we focus on forms of ecological disorganization caused by adding pollution called ecological additions to ecosystems. In theory, POTWs accept waste water, treat that water and return it to waterway ecosystems. The volume of ecological additions varies across states, and across individual waterway ecosystems used as waste-water basins, and our analysis does not address this problem in any specific waterway, but rather provides a general idea of the extent of this form of ecological disorganization. From a political economic vantage point, this form of ecological disorganization should be expected to be widespread, but also to reflect the distribution of various dimensions of the capitalist treadmill of production ToP across states.

Thus, in states where, for example, the ToP is agriculturally concentrated, POTW emissions will be likely to contain elevated levels of pollution associated with agricultural production, while in urban areas, they will reflect industrial pollution concentrations. This hypothesis concerning the relationship between POTW pollution and the capitalist ToP could be empirically tested with disaggregated POTW data that are connected to census data of various types. It is not our intent to test that hypothesis here but rather to explore the more general observation concerning the ecological disorganizing impacts of POTW pollution.

We also illustrate that issue in part by reviewing research on the ecological effects of the most prevalent pollutants emitted by POTWs later in this article. POTWs are state-owned or contracted facilities that process waste water from a diverse array of sources including residential areas, sewers, storm water and may sometimes include industrial waste effluent. After treatment, POTWs return processed waste-water to waterway ecosystems. Though regulated by law, POTWs may nevertheless emit polluted processed water into waterways.

Little research has addressed the quantity and types of emissions released by POTWs, and has been more likely to examine the technical aspects of controlling POTW emissions for example, Upadhyay et al. As Rahman et al. Addressing that issue, Rahman et al. Earnhart also noted that during the nine years examined, POTW emission regulations were rarely enforced, with only 43 enforcement actions.

Examining POTW emissions and regulation enforcement is also important because, like other pollutants, POTW emissions are likely to be unequally distributed. Using data on water quality from San Joaquin Valley, California, Balazs and Ray describe the social justice implications of access to clean water, and in particular to publicly treated drinking water.

They found that public drinking water quality and water treatment emissions were unequally distributed across race, class and ethnic lines. Little research has been published examining the volume and types of emissions POTWs emit. The present study addresses these issues by examining POTW water emissions for the most often emitted pollutants top pollutants across 48 US states for Before discussing these data, we provide some brief background material on the history of water pollution laws in the USA as context. Laws related to the control of water pollution, however, took significantly longer to develop Andreen, At that time, there was growing awareness that dumping raw sewage and industrial waste into waterways was creating public health problems and threatening waterway and wildlife health.

The CWA established the first rules for regulating water pollution discharges, and gave the US EPA authority to establish wastewater standards for industries, and for all wastewater receiving waterways in the USA. The permit system allowed EPA to track pollutants to their sources, and monitor the volume of waterway pollution being discharged, and in doing so to obtain a better understanding of the kinds and quantities of pollutants being emitted into waterways.


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Industry is normally expected to maintain separate wastewater treatment systems. Secondary treatment standards include the use of technology-based biological treatment of wastewater and apply to all POTWs. As a result, there are no general, national statutory standards concerning POTW emissions. Perhaps due to the complexity of POTW regulations and variability in those regulations across states, no prior study has examined national emissions by POTWs.

The PLT produces data on a state by state basis, which were then aggregated for the year The data used in this study quantify emissions, not violations of law, and because they quantify emissions, are indicators of the concept of green crime as ecological disorganization. As noted earlier, green crimes often expand beyond the scope of law, and even legally allowable behaviours can create ecosystem, human and non-human animal harms that can be defined as green crimes.

In the current case, we suggest that evidence of those green crimes is reflected by both the quantity of POTW emissions and the harms associated with POTW emissions. Information on the harms associated with POTW emissions are summarized later in this article. We identified those forty-four pollutants by recording the top ten pollutants in pounds emitted by POTWs in each state.

Our data describes two measures of POTW pollutants: 1 the pounds of the top ten emitted pollutants within each state in pounds; and 2 pounds of the top three toxic pollutants in each state in toxic-weighted pound equivalents TWPE. These data are, following applicable regulations, self-reported by POTWs. Both measures are indicators of different dimension of ecological disorganization.

There were 15, POTWs for the 48 states in the sample, with a mean of Twenty states had POTWs in excess of the mean. The current study measured aggregate POTW emissions for the top ten pollutants emitted by each state in total, 44 chemicals , and thus this estimate is not an estimate of the total pollution POTWs emit.

The pounds of pollutants emitted by POTW using our measure was more than Across states, POTWs emitted between 8. The mean pounds emitted were 4. The vast majority Footnote 2 See Supplementary Appendix A for pounds of top ten pollutants emitted by each state, and an indicator of pounds per acre of state land.

In turn, states typically obtain those data from POTW self-monitored emissions.

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As Table 1 indicates, however, the majority This data suggests that US EPA, though charged with monitoring and assessing US water quality, rarely requires individual POTWs to continuously monitor their emissions, even though, as noted earlier, a significant portion of US waterways fail to meet CWA requirements that were supposed to be met by Three pollution categories nitrogen, ammonia and Kjeldahl nitrogen pollution measured some dimension of nitrogen pollution, a serious water pollution concern because excessive nitrogen can cause eutrophication—a lack of water oxygen content that can lead to the death of aquatic species.

Six states In addition, three states listed BOD, another indicator of water oxygen content, as a top pollutant. BOD measures organic water pollution and water quality. In sum, 41 states listed the above six pollutants as their top pollutant. Across states, the aggregation of the top pollutants from each state yielded a total of 44 different pollutants. Table 3 shows only the most frequent of these pollutants, and the number of states reporting those pollutants as being among their top ten pollutants.

Table 3 can be interpreted as displaying the number of states out of 48 that listed each pollutant among its top ten pollutants. With respect to the previous discussion of eutrophication, 43 and 42 states, respectively, listed CBOD and BOD among their top ten pollutants—indicators that in most states, POTW emissions may be seriously impacting waterway oxygen content, and generating potentially serious waterway ecological disorganization such as the potential for eutrophication. These pollutants can disorganize waterway ecosystems by promoting excessive plant growth. Twenty-seven different chemicals with toxic properties were identified as being emitted by POTWs using this indicator.

Because we limited this assessment to the top three TWPE chemicals in each state, the data in Table 3 present only a limited picture of highly toxic pollution emissions by POTWs. In cases where the quantities of TWPEs emitted appear quite small, one must remember that these are highly toxic chemicals that, despite their small quantity, could have serious adverse impacts on local waterway aquatic species especially for sensitive species.

The most widely released toxin in this group was residual chlorine, which was long ago identified as having adverse health consequences for aquatic species Brungs, ; Bellanca and Bailey, ; Helz and Nweke, In addition, residual chlorine may also pose health risks to humans at elevated concentrations Mills et al. POTW emissions data can also be used to assess various pollution concentrations across states.

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As noted above, Minnesota emitted the largest quantity of total top ten pollutants billion pounds. Those emissions were There is a significant decline in the pounds of top ten pollutants reported by POTWs in the next grouping state reporting between to Future research can explore whether levels of emission by POTWs across states is related to the distribution or composition of the ToP see, Stretesky et al. In the aggregate the top ten pollutants represent a significantly large quantity of waterway pollution and ecological disorganization potential.

Other measures of those pollutants are useful to contextual those emissions. One approach is to standardized POTW pollution emission per miles of rivers and stream per state, or as pounds of pollution per state area in acres. Water-based POTW emissions are difficult to quantify given that in addition to rivers and streams, they may also be emitted to lakes and ponds, and in some states, oceans and estuaries. Some of those water bodies are measured in miles, and others in acres, requiring significant effort to convert those data to make them comparable.

A simpler standardization employs pounds of POTW pollutants per state acre, which may not be the most useful standardization for POTW pollution since, after all, those emissions occur in waterways.